End of an era

17 years is a long time. Next week Ricky Ponting will end his Test career just a handful of days short of that figure. It really seems like he’s been around forever, and I guess once you’ve reached the point where you are nearly 20 years older than one of your team mates (Pat Cummins) that’s to be expected. He’ll end it at the same ground where he made 96 on debut against the Sri Lankans in 1995. The WACA certainly isn’t his most successful ground, he has just the one century (197 v Pakistan, 1999) and he hasn’t passed 50 there since 2006, however he needs just 47 more runs to become the first player to score 1,000 Test runs there. But I doubt Ponting will be chasing records, he will just be wanting to provide the best contribution that he can to make sure the Australians get the victory they are seeking to take them back to being the number 1 ranked Test nation. That would be a fitting exit for a true champion.

When his Test career kicked off in 1995 he wasn’t the only debutante on show, he shared it with Stuart Law. While Ponting made his 96, he put together a 121 run partnership with Law – who contributed 54 himself – for the 5th wicket, not bad for a pair playing their first Test. Steve Waugh came back into the side for the 2nd and 3rd Tests in that series and Stuart Law never played again in the baggy green – one can’t help but wonder what might have been if those debut performances of Ponting and Law had been reversed.

Ponting had a truly stellar run through the middle of his career, in particular from 2002 to 2006 where he racked up 24 of his 41 centuries, tallying 6,141 runs at an average of 72.24 in 57 Tests. But in recent years as the runs started to dry up and the big scores weren’t coming the pressure started to build, particularly from various sections of the media. There’s no real way to prove it, but I’m sure the negativity couldn’t have helped, for even the most experienced player it still must get to them – it’s simply impossible to block everything out.

Despite the pressure he battled on, in the hope that the form would return – for a while at the beginning of this year against the Indians it looked like it had. First he broke his century drought with 134 in Sydney, then followed it up a couple of weeks later with 221 and 60* in Adelaide. Unfortunately through the tour of the West Indies and the first two Tests against the South Africans the low scores returned. And when he was dismissed bowled in both innings in the Adelaide Test it was the first time that this had happened to him since his 4th Test way back in 1996 against India. With the failures coming on a pitch where Clarke, Hussey and Warner all made a stack of runs it is probably an understatement to think that Ponting would have been disappointed.

Over the last couple of years Ricky has stated on numerous occasions that he’d like one more crack at regaining the Ashes, and despite the his sketchy form over the past couple of years most still believed he was still a decent to be part of the England leg of next year’s Ashes double header. Following today’s announcement he was asked if it was tough for him to make the decision knowing he wouldn’t be going to he Ashes next year his reply said it all. “No, it’s not tough at all. I’ve made up my own mind that I feel I’m not good enough to get there, so that’s not a tough decision.”

It seemed like a very relax, content Ricky Ponting that addressed the media this afternoon. You could tell he was ok with his decision. He said it himself, but it was clear from watching him in recent times that he certainly hasn’t lost his love of the game. Whether it was his continued energy in the field, especially in the past couple of seasons when he’s been under increased pressure wight the bat. Or you’d see footage of him mucking around at training, or celebrating a wicket and for a moment you’d forget that he’s been around for so long and really is the last of his generation in the Australian side. In fact there are only a handful of players still going around who debuted during (or before in Sachin’s case) the 1990’s – not a bad batch of names either: Sachin Tendulkar, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Daniel Vettori, Mahela Jayawardene, Harbhajan Singh, Rangana Herath, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Jacques Kallis.

So, when the Perth Test comes to a close early next week it’ll bring the curtain down on Ponting’s brilliant 168 Test career – finishing with in excess of 13,300 runs, 41 centuries, an average of 52, at least 196 catches… oh, and 5 wickets. The 168 Test mark is something he’ll forever share with his predecessor, Steve Waugh. Had he not pulled the plug now he most likely would have continued on to have one last appearance in a home Test at Bellerive Oval, a Test that coincidentally finishes the day before Punter’s 38th birthday, and in the process would have become Australia’s most capped player.

We haven’t seen the end of Punter just yet, he’ll have one more outing for Australia when he captains the Prime Minister’s XI against the West Indians in Canberra in late January. And while the international career may be over, he’ll still see out the remainder of the domestic season with Tasmania (where’s he’s averaging 118 in the Sheffield Shield so far this season) and the Hobart Hurricanes in the BBL which starts less than week after the Perth Test concludes. The way that he worded it his continuation at domestic level, “see out the season”, seems to hint that he won’t go around again next year – but that decision likely hangs on how he feels he performs between now and the end of the Shield season in mid-March.

That he was able to bring it all to a close on his terms – something that several of his peers have not had the opportunity to do – at the time of his choosing, and for him to choose to do it with another record and home test just within reach says pretty much everything about the Ricky Ponting we’ve all enjoyed watching for so long. He was no longer satisfied with his own performances, and he believed that this was the right time for both himself and for the team, allowing the Aussies to start fresh with the next series against Sri Lanka that, as mentioned, kicks of in a couple of weeks time.

That just leaves one big question. Who gets the almighty challenge of trying to fill his shoes?