Ricky Ponting will retire from international cricket after the third Test against South Africa in Perth, at the same ground where the former Australian captain’s career began 17 years ago.
The usually composed Ponting was visibly moved as he spoke about sharing the news with his team, and although most probably saw it coming, it was evidently still a bitter pill to swallow.
“I tried to tell them a lot, but I didn’t get much out. As I said to the boys this morning, they’ve never seen me emotional, but I was this morning,” Ponting said.
Ponting has had a colourful career and he’s notched up a few records along the way, one of them being the player to have played in more Test wins than anybody else. Although his achievements are mammoth, he wants the team to stay focused on the task at hand: taking the number one ranking from South Africa by winning the final Test in Perth.
“As far as I’m concerned, my immediate focus now, and the team’s immediate focus, is what we’re presented with tomorrow. That’s an unbelievable opportunity. We’re going into what I believe is almost like a grand finale,” Ponting said.
Despite a good run in the Sheffield Shield before South Africa arrived, Ponting has struggled for form in the series, failing to pass 20 in both Tests. For the Tasmanian, there is no better time to make good than in the final Test on the ground where his career began as a 20-year-old. He scored 96 in that match, against Sri Lanka, and Australia won by an innings and 36 runs.
“This week we’ve got a big job ahead, and especially me. I’ve got to lift my level of play from where it was last week to where it is this week. I’ve got a good feeling I can do that, and as I said there’s no better stage than in a finals type game – a big game – to try to do that this week. This is where it all started for me 17 years ago, and that’s where it’s going to finish,” the 37-year old said.
Rumours of Ponting’s retirement have been circling for a while, and prior to the series he admitted that continuous poor performances would lead him to call it a day. He performed well against India earlier this year, but felt that his performances against South Africa simply weren’t up to scratch.
“It’s a decision I thought long and hard about. [I] put in long consideration about the decision. At the end of the day it was about my results and my output in this series so far,” Ponting said.
“It hasn’t been to the level required for batsmen and players in the Australian team. My level of performance hasn’t been good enough.”
Many had speculated that Ponting, in his persistent stubbornness, would cling on for the Ashes series in England next year. But the ex-Aussie skipper doesn’t think he’s good enough to warrant a place in the side. There was no specific dismissal, there was no specific moment; for Ponting, it’s something which has been building for a while.
“I want to be a consistent performer, and if you look back over the last 12 or 18 months, I haven’t been able to perform consistently. I’ve had moments of really good stuff, and prolonged moments of cricket [that have] been below my expectations and below par for me. So there hasn’t been one dismissal or one moment – it’s just been, in my own eyes, reasonably consistent failure. That’s why I believe the time is right now to be making this decision.”
Michael Clarke, the man who took over the captaincy from Ponting in March last year, was overcome with emotion and admitted that he was taken by surprise.
“I didn’t have a feeling it was coming. Ricky spoke to me after the Adelaide Test match and made his decision, I guess, over the last few days. The boys are obviously hurting at the moment. He’s been an amazing player for a long time,” said the skipper.
He then took a deep breath, lowered his head, slouched back in his chair and started to tear up, saying he couldn’t answer the question about whether he knew it was coming.
The emotional skipper managed to squeeze out a few more words, though. Clarke believes that Ponting’s imminent retirement will serve as inspiration for the team to propel them to the number one ranking in the world, which they’ll manage if they win the third and final Test.
“This is why we play this great game, for these kinds of stern tests,” said Clarke.
Ponting’s exit might be an emotional one, but his timing is precise. He has, for the most part of his career, been revered, despite many finding his character irksome and unpleasant. It’s the mark of a legend, knowing when to call it a day.
Ponting might be stubborn, but he is not stupid, and as WC Fields would say: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.” DM
Photo: Australia’s Ricky Ponting gestures during the first day’s play of the third cricket test match against South Africa, at the WACA in Perth November 30, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer
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