Paul Newman: Ponting's retirement is the Ashes' loss… the Aussie villain will be badly missed in next summer's showdown
09:43 GMT, 29 November 2012
A certain magical something disappeared from next summer’s Ashes today when Ricky Ponting, truly one of the greatest batsmen cricket has known, decided that tomorrow’s Test in Perth will be his 168th and last.
Ponting may have fulfilled the role of pantomime villain in England but he will be sadly missed when they take on Australia for what is still cricket’s greatest prize. The Ashes will never feel quite the same without him.
An emotional Ponting chose the eve of Australia’s third and deciding Test against South Africa in Perth to tell the world that, just short of his 38th birthday, enough is enough. He is sure to have a poignant send-off at the same WACA ground where it all started for him in Test cricket 17 years ago.
Fierce competitor: Ponting (centre) will go down as one of the greats
Michael Clarke, the man who succeeded Ponting as Australia captain in the aftermath of England’s historic Ashes triumph last year, could barely hold himself together as he talked about a batsman who is second only to the great Sir Don Bradman himself in terms of Australian achievement. He was that good.
There are many in England who have derided Ponting, who have teased him and treated him as the perfect target to focus all anti-Australian banter. In truth it was a compliment for he was the Aussie opponent we all feared the most.
He wasn’t easy to love on the field even though he was such a magnificent competitor. Ponting could sledge with the best of them, which was fair enough, but he often had a bad attitude towards umpires, displaying a disrespect to them that was unbecoming of the Australian captain and the man himself.
Top talent: Ponting is the second highest run-scorer in Test history
Off the field he was a man of real stature. I can honestly say he was one of the best and most impressive people that I have ever had to deal with. To the media he was courteous, thoughtful, articulate and respectful. Many could learn from him.
I will never forget the audience he granted the English print media, a task above and beyond the call of duty that he always provided for us in Australia because of the difficulties of the time difference, deep in the bowels of the Gabba in Brisbane ahead of the first Test of the last Ashes.
I had travelled to Australia convinced England would win. Hell, I even tipped the score to be 3-1 which, of course, it eventually turned out to be. But that spellbinding 20 minutes, just Ponting and around eight of nine of us, made me wonder if I had got it all badly wrong. So impressive was he in his confidence that Australia would prevail that I severely questioned my own judgment.
Impressive: Ponting was always courteous to the media
Even Ponting, as it turned out, could not stop England on that tour but he never stopped believing he would until the moment that he resigned the captaincy, with huge dignity, when it became clear that England were his match.
The writing has been on the wall for a while now. He has not been the same player for a good year or so and the only question became when he would go. He desperately wanted one, or maybe even two, last cracks at England and deep down we all wanted that too. If we can’t boo Punter then it really won’t be so much fun.
Australia patriotism and myopia may all be a bit much at times for English tastes but they know how to honour their great sportsmen. Ponting was allowed to decide when he would go, the selectors trusting him to make the right call, and by all accounts there was barely a dry eye in the house when he told the players today that he was going. So well respected is he that most did not see it coming.
Ashes stalwart: Ponting squares up to Michael Vaughan before the 2005 series
Ponting’s wife, his young family and the whole Australian team then attended his goodbye press conference at the WACA. It is a worthy tribute to the man.
Perhaps it is also the English way to go more quietly than this. Andrew Flintoff attracted criticism for announcing, on the eve of the Lord’s Test, that the 2009 Ashes series would be his last, because to many he was taking attention away from the team. Someone like Mike Atherton, for instance, would have rather died than told everyone that his next Test appearance would be his last.
Mentor: Michael Clarke (left) has taken on the captaincy from Ponting
But it feels right with Ponting. Great champions, as the Aussies would say, deserve a great send off and the Perth Test will undoubtedly all be about Ricky Ponting. He will go into it with 13,366 Test runs from his 167 games at an average in excess of 50, a true mark of greatness.
I for one have never wanted an Australian to score a Test century more than I want Ponting to do so against South Africa tomorrow. And if it means Australia go to the top of the world rankings on the back of it so be it. England can always take the title back off them next summer. Ricky Ponting is one of the greatest players to ever wear the Baggy Green. He deserves to go out in style.