OPINION: As his friends, all of them champions, vacated the dressing room, Ricky Ponting carried the candle for Australia's dominant generation.
Now he is gone too, leaving memories of imperious straight drives and commanding pull shots that, along with his record as Australia's most prolific runscorer, make him the nation's best batsman since Bradman.
Ponting has plenty of experience with retirements. He watched Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath fashion their own exits together, taking the aura of his bowling attack with them, and at the same time, after the 2006-07 Ashes saw the lights go out for his great friend Justin Langer.
For Adam Gilchrist, the penny dropped with a dropped catch in Adelaide the very next summer. All of them told him that when it was time, he would know.
Ponting's end could have been messy, but in the end it was professional and businesslike, a bit like one of his interviews with the press. Honest, direct, but with no time for small talk afterwards. Not for him a summer of farewells like the one that became a circus for his predecessor as captain, Steve Waugh, and with whom he will share the honour of being Australia's most capped Test cricketer.
Ponting was never going to be wheeled out for a farewell Test in his home state of Tasmania, as tempting as that might have been for the sentimentalists who saw that it was the next Test on the schedule, against Sri Lanka. That's not Ponting's style.
Equally, he seized the moment, which would not have lasted long on current form, to leave the game that is all he has known, on his own terms.
Previously, the bloody-mindedness in Ponting has given the impression that he would push on until the selectors ended it all, unceremoniously, as they did his one-day career earlier this year.
As his Indian contemporary Rahul Dravid said last summer, few players care about legacies until it's over. They play for the pure joy of the contest, in Ponting's case to the point of being the first player on the bus before training and the last one to leave the nets, every time.
When Brett Lee retired from international cricket this year, Ponting spoke of his sadness at seeing empty spaces in the dressing room where his mates used to be. None will leave a bigger space than Ricky Ponting. His generation of Australian cricketers is gone. It's Michael Clarke's time to bring on a new one.
In that respect Ponting is what Langer would call a "cricket nuffy" - in the Adelaide nets last week, he'd break from his own training to pop out of the nets and talk to Nathan Lyon about his off-breaks, or run into the next net to help another batsman.
That passion, along with some technical adjustments, is what allowed Ponting to survive this time last year, when his career was last on the line. As he mentioned in announcing his retirement, he could easily have been punted then, but he came out the other side and plundered back to back hundreds, one of them a glorious double, against India.
Ponting retires as one of the great batsmen of his generation alongside Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid, Brian Lara and Jacques Kallis. For me, Lara is the only one who could take the breath away like Ponting, and the Tasmanian's street-fighting innings - like his 156 to save the third Test at Old Trafford in 2005 - were every bit as compelling.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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