If life is a cycle that encompasses ‘rise and fall’, then Ricky Ponting has seen it all over his 37 summers.
Prolific phases, lean patches, terrific victories, gut-wrenching losses, leading his national team and then adjusting to his role of being just another player are all aspects of the sheer range of experiences that the man from Tasmania has coped with since his Test debut in 1995 against Sri Lanka at Perth’s WACA.
Add to it the odd black-eye suffered from drunken brawls in his formative years, copping the late Peter Roebuck’s admonishment over the Aussies’ poor behaviour during their victory over India at Sydney in 2008, and you get a man who never quite saw a need for political correctness that most athletes these days cloak themselves with.
When Ponting (13,366 Test runs, 13,704 ODI runs) announced on Thursday that the third Test in Australia’s series against South Africa in Perth would be his last international fixture, it signalled another movement in the slow descending of the curtains on an era of batting giants.
Sachin Tendulkar (15,562 Test runs) and Jacques Kallis (12,941) now remain the last two of a vanishing tribe that shares a common theme of monumental runs and awe-inspiring career longevity; Rahul Dravid (13,288) bowed out earlier this year.
Closure to Ponting’s 17-year presence in the game’s highest echelons was on the cards after he mustered a mere 20 runs in three innings against South Africa in the current series.
The law of diminishing returns has often plagued him over the last two years, but Ponting defied age and poor-form to aggregate a whopping 544 during the home series against India, exactly 10 months ago.
However, the latest bout of below-par scores snapped the ‘good fight’ that has always resided within the former Australian captain’s frame.
As a batsman in his prime, Ponting was the lone challenger to Tendulkar’s avalanche of runs.
The pull and the cover-drive often defined his batting, while the overwhelming traits of consistency, high-impact and razor-sharp fielding further enhanced his value to the side.
He scored runs everywhere and, though he became something of Harbhajan Singh’s ‘bunny’ during the dismal tour of India in 2001 (17 runs), Ponting shed that memory with a 123 on a subsequent visit.
Also consider the match-winning hundred he scored in the 2003 World Cup final against India in South Africa and the way he guided his squad to another World Cup triumph in 2007 in the Caribbean, and you have a player who largely led from the front.
The downswing though was the three Ashes defeats, and his dwindling returns at the crease, but it was a phase that also coincided with the dreaded ‘transitional phase’ as men like Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden bowed out.
For a man who tended to mask his emotions under a grim face, Ponting surely evoked strong feelings in his peers and rivals.
Michael Clarke seemed to tear up while talking about Ponting at the WACA on Thursday.
And the tweets from men as varied as Kevin Pietersen and Virat Kohli further reflected the enormous respect that Test cricket’s second highest run-getter has garnered from all over the cricketing globe.
“I have given cricket my all,” Ponting said, and he could not have worded it better as a glorious career will play out its final act over the next five days.