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Ricky Ponting dropped his guard momentarily, his rugged, uncompromising exterior cracking while he told teammates that this Test against South Africa will be his last. The timing, and the delivery, caught everyone by surprise — none more than Michael Clarke, Ponting’s successor as Australia captain, long-time understudy, and a member of the panel of selectors.
Ponting, who will equal Steve Waugh’s Australia record with his 168th Test cap starting Friday in Perth, managed to compose himself and present a resolute image to a domestic media contingent that has speculated for more than a year about when the former skipper should or would call an end to his Test career. “A few hours ago I let the boys know of my decision to make this Test my last,’’ Ponting started. He continued, “I tried to say a lot but I didn’t get much out. They’d never seen me emotional before, but I was this morning.’’
Ponting’s wife, Rianna, and their two daughters were in the news conference room, along with his teammates, coach Mickey Arthur and chief selector John Inverarity in a unanimous show of support.
Clarke couldn’t hold back the tears when it was his turn to speak in front of the cameras after Ponting, who will turn 38 next month, announced his decision. “The boys are obviously hurting at the moment. He’s been an amazing player for a long time,’’ Clarke said, before drawing a few deep breaths, taking time as he contemplated a question posed about the atmosphere in the room when Ponting broke the news. “And that’ll do me for today. Sorry, I can’t answer that.’’
Clarke had only half-jokingly told a news conference after the drawn second Test in Adelaide on Monday that he hoped Ponting would rebound from his lean patch with a triple century in Perth against the top-ranked South Africans.
“I didn’t have the feeling it was coming,’’ Clarke said. In a later TV interview, Clarke said he tried to talk Ponting out of retirement. “I certainly tried to,’’ Clarke told Channel Nine. “Like all of the players in the changeroom we would still like him to be there.’’
Ponting made his Test debut in Perth against Sri Lanka in 1995, as a young batsman with plenty of ability and a lot of swagger. Since then, he has amassed 13,336 runs in the Test arena, a record for an Australian batsman and second only to Sachin Tendulkar in the cricket world. The only serious blot on Ponting’s record is the three Ashes series losses on his watch, starting with England’s drought-breaking win at home in 2005. He has long said he wanted another shot at England, but made up his mind he wouldn’t make it next year.
‘Not good enough’
“It’s not tough at all. I’ve made up my own mind that I feel I’m not good enough to get there,’’ Pontings said. “It’s a pretty easy decision ... when you come to the realisation that what you can give isn’t good enough. I want to be a consistent performer. (There’s) been a buildup in my own mind, of reasonably consistent failure so that’s why the time is now.’’
Ponting was involved in one of the greatest eras of Australian cricket. He’s been described variously as stoic, surly, stubborn and irascible, but he’s attracted more praise than criticism over a long career in which his primary aim was always to score runs and chase a win rather than settle for anything less.
He guided Australia to back-to-back World Cup titles in 2003 and ‘07 after taking over the captaincy from Waugh and led a team that was long considered No. 1 in the world. He stood down as captain after an Ashes series loss on home soil followed by a quarterfinal exit in the 2011 World Cup in India.
It didn’t take long for selectors to drop him from the ODI team, with a run of low scores bringing about his demise in that format in February. He vowed to bat on in Test cricket, promising to continue scoring runs and leaving it up to the selectors to keep picking him — or not.
He came into the three-Test series against South Africa with plenty of runs on the board in domestic first-class cricket, but only put together 20 runs in three innings of the two drawnTests in Brisbane and Adelaide. In the second Test, he was bowled in both innings and never looked comfortable at the crease.
Ponting said during the Adelaide match that a discussion with selectors would obviously come sooner rather than later and, asked if he still was targeting the 2013 Ashes tour to England, suggested that he might not even make it through this summer. “I know I have given cricket my all, it’s been my life for 20 years. There’s not much more I could give,’’ he said Thursday.
Australia needs to win the series against South Africa to have any chance of supplanting them at the top of the test rankings, and that is Ponting’s main career goal right now. “This week I’ve got a big job ahead, I’ve got to lift my level of play from what it was last week,’’ he said. “Over the last couple of weeks my level of performance hasn’t been good enough. My passion and love for the game hasn’t changed.’’
To Keep going for tasmania
Ponting plans to continue playing for Tasmania state in the Sheffield Shield competition and will play for the Prime Minister’s XI against Sri Lanka later in the summer. “There were moments where (selectors) probably thought long and hard about ending my career and I’m glad I’ve got the opportunity to finish this way and on my terms. I’d like to thank those guys.’’
A century of wins
Ricky Ponting is the only player to have appeared in 100 Test wins. He has played 167 Tests of which Australia have won 108. It makes him the player involved in most wins in Tests. Shane Warne with 92, Steve Waugh with 86 and Glenn McGrath with 84 follow Ponting on the list.
Ricky Ponting who made his Test debut against Sri Lanka at the same venue 17 years ago, will equal Steve Waugh’s Australian record of most Test matches. The Perth Test match will be 168th Test match for former Australian skipper. Waugh played the same number of Tests between 1985 and 2004.
Ponting is No.2 on the century-makers list behind only India’s Sachin Tendulkar. Tendulkar has 100 hundreds, while Ponting has made 71 tons and is followed by Kallis who is on 61. However, Ponting occupies the top-two positions in the most-ever runs in a calender year list. In 2005 he made 2,833 runs at 56.66 with nine tons and two years earlier, he had made 2,657 at 66.42 with 11 hundreds.
One year, 3 Doubles
Ponting is one of the three batsmen to score three or more double hundreds in a calender year. He joined Don Bradman as the second player to score three double-centuries in a calendar year with 257 against India at Melbourne in December 2003 . He made 242 in the previous match at Adelaide and 206 against West Indies in April. Michael Clarke bettered the record by making two double hundreds in the current series against South Africa following his triple and double against India.