Ricky Ponting has the chance to leave Australian cricket where he has helped to put it for most of his magnificent career – on top of the world.
Victory over South Africa in Perth, in the final international match of his 17-year career after he announced his retirement yesterday morning, would take Australia back to No 1 in the International Cricket Council Test rankings. It would be a fairytale way to bid farewell for the 37-year-old, and an appropriate one too to cap his many achievements as a World Cup and Ashes-winning captain.
Ponting is the second-highest run scorer in Test history and the most successful captain of all time, with 48 Test wins. However, his record as skipper will forever be blighted by an unprecedented hat-trick of Ashes losses to the old enemy England – in 2005, 2009 and 2010/11.
He cited recent struggles with the bat as the reason for his dramatic eve-of-Test announcement, declining the platform to then conduct a lengthy retrospective of his Baggy Green career. Instead, he will focus on what he can still do for Australia in his last five days as a Test cricketer. “A few hours ago I let the team know my decision to make this Test my last,” Ponting told a packed press conference. “It’s a decision I thought long and hard about. But, at the end of the day, it’s based on my results and my output in this series so far,” he said, having made nought and four in his last two innings.
“It hasn’t been what I expect of myself or to the level I feel is required for batsmen in the Australia team. I continued to play as long as I felt I could contribute to wins but, over the last couple of weeks, I felt my level of performance has not been good enough to do that.
“My passion and love of the game has not changed one bit over the last 12-18 months, where things haven’t been as I’d have liked or pictured them. But, as far as I’m concerned, my immediate focus – and the focus of the team – is on what we’re presented with tomorrow. It’s an unbelievable opportunity in what is almost a ‘grand final’ situation. I’ve prepared this week and I’m hungrier than ever. I want this win more than any game I’ve ever played in. If that happened to lead to a win for the team and we get back to the top of the tree and number one in the world, then there’s no better time to finish.”
Despite a strong start to the Sheffield Shield summer, Ponting’s future has been the subject of much speculation following a dismal two Tests in Brisbane and Adelaide in which he could muster just 20 runs.
On the fourth morning of the latter he admitted he was unsure about his place in the team, conceding there was a chance he could even be dropped for Perth.
Coach Mickey Arthur, captain Michael Clarke and senior batsman Mike Hussey all threw their support behind him following the second Test, insisting a return to form was not far away.
But, with a three-Test series to come against Sri Lanka before back-to-back Ashes series away and then at home against England, Ponting has decided to go. He intends to continue playing state cricket for Tasmania and for Hobart Hurricanes in the T20 Big Bash League. The Perth Test will be his 168th, meaning he will finish his career level with former captain Steve Waugh as Australia’s most-capped player.
Matches: 167 (won 48 out of 77 Tests as captain).
Debut: Against Sri Lanka at Perth on 8 December, 1995.
Total runs: 13,366. Second highest scorer in the world behind India’s Sachin Tendulkar (15,562).
Centuries: 41. Third highest number of centuries behind Tendulkar (51) and South Africa’s Jacques Kallis (44).
Double centuries: 6.
Batting average: 52.21.
Highest score: 257.
Matches: 375 (won 165 of 230 as captain).
Debut: Against South Africa at Wellington on 15 February, 1995.
Total runs: 13,704. Second highest scorer behind India’s Tendulkar (18,426).
Centuries: 30. Second highest number of centuries behind Tendulkar (49).
Batting average: 42.03.
Highest score: 164.
Other milestones: Won three 50-over World Cups as a player (1999, 2003 and 2007), and led Australia in last two World Cup wins.