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Ponting: truly great batsman, even greater competitor

Friday, 30 November 2012 - 12:53pm IST | Place: London | Agency: The Daily Telegraph

Cricket Australia came down hard and, to his credit, he turned away from that life, finding fulfilment in nurturing his substantial talent further to contribute to Australia's greatest era under Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh.
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Inability any longer to seize the key moments spells the end of a wonderful career writes Derek Pringle

Even the lure of an eighth Ashes series could not prevent Ricky Ponting from calling time on his distinguished international career once he had felt his own high standards had been compromised. A batsman and captain whose natural instinct was to attack, whatever the situation, he leaves the game as one of its greats and -arguably its toughest competitor.

He will play the last of his 168 Tests at the Waca, where it all began in 1995, with the announcement coming on Thursday at a press conference attended by the Australia team and their tearful captain, Michael Clarke.

There were tributes from -opponents, too, and Kevin Pietersen, enjoying a short break with England in Mumbai, tweeted: "Ricky Ponting - one of the greats. I always got excited playing Australia so I could watch him bat up close. Well done Punter. Legend."

Opinion about him has not always been that complimentary, however. As one of the most talented teenaged batsmen Rod Marsh had seen pass through Australia's Academy, Ponting was picked for his first Test at of 20, but he struggled to cope with the attention and hit the bottle, resulting in several unseemly incidents.

Cricket Australia came down hard and, to his credit, he turned away from that life, finding fulfilment in nurturing his substantial talent further to contribute to Australia's greatest era under Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh. Two years ago he beat Shane Warne's total of Test wins to become the only man in history to be involved in 100 Test victories.

Controversy never really left him, though, and resurfaced in another guise when he became captain. Transferring the ruthless, uncompromising streak that fired his batting to maintaining Australia's dominance sparked a number of unsavoury episodes as aggression spilt over into animosity. One series against India came close to being called off, so high did feelings run, and there were calls for him to be sacked.

Once again he adjusted, ameliorating his win-at-any cost policy - some say to his and Australia's detriment after they lost the 2005 Ashes, their first defeat by England for 19 years. His captaincy certainly came under scrutiny in that series, especially his decision at Edgbaston, where he bowled after winning the toss despite losing Glenn McGrath just minutes earlier with a sprained ankle. Yet Australia came within two runs of winning, so it was hardly the catastrophic error many claimed it to be.

That Ashes defeat was the first of three he suffered as the team's leader, the most by an Australian captain. He also won one, 5-0, in 2006-07, which had been done only once before, so there was one almighty feast among the famine. Overall, he led Australia to 47 Test victories and 34 consecutive wins in World Cup matches, an incredible record, and all those who played under him speak of a leader they would follow without hesitation.

His batting is what those outside the dressing room will remember most. Blessed with preternatural hand-eye co-ordination, Ponting could destroy just about any attack when the mood took him. His habit of going at the ball hard gave him problems early in his career against spin, especially on slow pitches, but he overcame that to become the -complete batsman and form one third of a sainted trio of stroke-makers alongside Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar.

His 41 Test hundreds and 30 one-day hundreds put him second behind Tendulkar's combined total of 100 centuries, though the Little Master did have a six-year head start. Ponting's 196 against England at Brisbane in 2006 is his highest Ashes century, but his 156 in the last innings to save the match at Old Trafford, in 2005, is one of his favourites.

While Tendulkar likes to be with his own thoughts on the boundary at third man or fine leg, Ponting wanted to mix it with opponents and intimidate them from cover point, where his brilliant fielding brought about more than the occasional run-out.

At 37, he could have played on and his Test average since handing over to Clarke 18 months ago is decent enough, at 41.7 from 25 Test innings. But, as he said, he had been "falling at the big moments in games" and that, for a man who always prided himself at staring down trouble, was unacceptable.

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