Ponting announces retirement
Ricky Ponting has the chance to leave Australian cricket where he has helped to put it for most of his stellar career - on top of the world.
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Victory over South Africa in Perth, in the final international match of his 17-year career after he announced his retirement on Thursday morning, would take Australia back to number one in the International Cricket Council Test rankings.
It would be a fairytale way to bid farewell for the 37-year-old, and an appropriate one too to cap his many achievements as a World Cup and Ashes-winning captain.
Ponting is the second-highest run-scorer in Test history and the most successful captain of all time, with 48 Test wins.
He cited recent struggles with the bat as the reason for his dramatic eve-of-Test announcement, declining the platform to then conduct a lengthy retrospective of his Baggy Green career.
Instead, he will focus on what he can still do for Australia in his last five days as a Test cricketer.
"A few hours ago I let the team know my decision to make this Test my last," Ponting told a packed press conference.
"It's a decision I thought long and hard about. But at the end of the day, it's based on my results and my output in this series so far," he said, having made nought and four in his last two innings.
"It hasn't been what I expect of myself or to the level I feel is required for batsmen in the Australia team.
"I continued to play as long as I felt I could contribute to wins but over the last couple of weeks I felt my level of performance has not been good enough to do that.
"My passion and love of the game has not changed one bit over the last 12-18 months, where things haven't been as I'd have liked or pictured them.
"But as far as I'm concerned my immediate focus - and the focus of the team - is on what we're presented with tomorrow. It's an unbelievable opportunity in what is almost a 'grand final' situation.
"I've prepared this week and I'm hungrier than ever. I want this win more than any game I've ever played in.
"If that happened to lead to a win for the team and we get back to the top of the tree and number one in the world, then there's no better time to finish."
Despite a strong start to the Sheffield Shield summer, Ponting's future has been the subject of much speculation following a dismal two Tests in Brisbane and Adelaide in which he could muster just 20 runs.
On the fourth morning of the latter he admitted he was unsure about his place in the team, conceding there was a chance he could even be dropped for Perth.
Coach Mickey Arthur, captain Michael Clarke and senior batsman Mike Hussey all threw their support behind him following the second Test, insisting a return to form was not far away.
But with a three-Test series to come against Sri Lanka before back-to-back Ashes series away and then at home against England, Ponting has decided the time is right to go.
He intends to continue playing state cricket for Tasmania, as well as honouring his Big Bash League contract with Hobart Hurricanes.
The Perth Test will be his 168th, meaning he will finish his career level with former captain Steve Waugh as Australia's most-capped player.
Heading into his final match, a month before his 38th birthday, he has scored an Australian-record 13,366 runs at an average of 52.21 - including 41 centuries and a highest score of 257.
Ponting's retirement comes nine months after he quit the one-day international arena and just under two years after he relinquished the captaincy of the Test squad following the 2010/11 Ashes loss.
His leadership will also be remembered for three Ashes defeats, however, the first of them in 2005 coming after his country had held the famous urn for 16 years.
Ponting's international career will end at the same ground where it began, also against Sri Lanka.
Clarke, his successor as Australia's Test and ODI captain, has spent his whole international career with Ponting a senior guiding force in the team.
He will lead the veteran one last time, having been taken back by Ponting's retirement.
A near-tearful Clarke said: "I didn't have a feeling it was coming.
"The boys are obviously hurting at the moment. He's been an amazing player for a long time."
Even Ponting admitted to being in an uncharacteristically emotional state when he told his team-mates of his decision.
"I tried to tell them a lot, but I didn't get much out," he said.
"They've never seen me emotional, but I was this morning."
Ricky Ponting factfile:
1974: Born December 19 in Launceston, Tasmania.
1986: At the age of 12 he signs a bat contract with Kookaburra.
1992: Scores 56 against South Australia in his first-class debut for Tasmania, aged 17.
1995: February - Makes one-day international debut for Australia against South Africa aged 20, but is bowled by Eric Simons for one.
December - Makes Test debut against Sri Lanka, scoring 96.
1996: January - Makes his first ODI century with 123 against Sri Lanka.
March - At 21, becomes youngest batsman to score a World Cup century with 102 against the West Indies.
1997: Records his first Test century with 127 against England at Headingley in his first Ashes innings. However, he was in and out of the Test team for the next two years.
1999: A fight outside a pub in Kings Cross, Sydney earns him a suspension, but later in the year a century against the West Indies sees him cement his place.
2002: When Steve Waugh is dropped, Ponting vaults over vice-captain Adam Gilchrist to become Australia's ODI captain.
2003: Leads the team undefeated through the 2003 World Cup and makes an unbeaten 140 in the final.
2004: Steve Waugh's retirement opens the door for Ponting to assume the Test captaincy, and he wins his debut match against Sri Lanka in Galle in March.
2005: September - Becomes first Australia captain since Allan Border to experience Ashes defeat as England win a thrilling series 2-1.
Ponting scores 1,544 runs in the calendar year, an Australian record.
2006: January - Becomes the only player to mark his 100th Test with a century in each innings, scoring 120 and 143no against South Africa in Sydney.
March - Scores 164 from only 105 balls in the fifth ODI against South Africa in Johannesburg, but sees the Proteas make 438 for nine in reply to Australia's 434 for four.
December - Leads Australia to a 5-0 whitewash of England with his two centuries seeing him pass Waugh's record of 32 Test tons for Australia.
2007: April - In a World Cup match against South Africa in St Kitts, Ponting passes the 10,000-run mark in ODIs, the first Australian to reach the mark and seventh man in the world. Australia win the World Cup undefeated.
2008: January - Victory in the second Test against India makes it 16 in a row for Ponting's Australia, tying a record. India win the next Test in Perth to end the run.
May - Scores his 10,000th Test run against the West Indies in Antigua. Border and Steve Waugh are the only other Australians to reach the mark.
2009: August - Having scored 150 in the first Test in Cardiff, Ponting's team lose another Ashes series in England. 2-1 win.
September - Retires from Twenty20 internationals.
October - Australia win the ICC Champions Trophy with Ponting the tournament's leading run-scorer. He becomes the third man to pass 12,000 ODI runs.
2010: January - Named by an elite panel as the world player of the decade.
December - Ashes series sees Ponting lose the urn to England for a third time, this time in front of Australian crowds. He struggles for runs as England win the series 3-1.
2011: February/March - After missing a 6-1 one-day series win over England through injury, Ponting returns to lead Australia in the World Cup but his century is not enough to stop them losing to India in the quarter-finals.
March 29 - Resigns as captain of Australia but says he wants to play on for the team.
2012: January - Scores 134 and 221 against India in a return to form, passing 13,000 Test runs in the process.
February 20 - Dropped from the one-day side for matches against Sri Lanka and India.
February 21 - Announces his retirement from one-day internationals, but vows to play on in Test cricket.
November 29 - Announces the third Test against South Africa will be his last before retiring from Test cricket after scores of four, seven, 23, zero and four in his last five innings.