Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, Perth November 29, 2012

End of a great career, start of a new era

Regardless of what happens in the Perth Test, it will be a watershed for Michael Clarke. He knows nothing of Test cricket that doesn't involve Ricky Ponting. His challenge now is to define a new era alone

There was a fitting sense of symmetry in Ricky Ponting's decision to leave Test cricket after the upcoming Perth Test, and not just because the WACA is where his career began 17 years ago. Should Australia send Ponting off with his 109th Test victory, they will return to the top of the ICC's Test rankings. Under Ponting's leadership, Australia sat at No.1 for five-and-a-half years. For most of his career they were the best side in the world, even if rankings didn't exist to confirm it.

The remarkable nature of that achievement has only become fully apparent since Australia fell from the top with their 2009 Ashes debacle. South Africa spent a few months at No.1. India were there for a year and a bit. England occupied top spot for 12 months. Now South Africa are back, but it could be temporary. The concept of any team remaining at the pinnacle for as long as the Australians did is becoming hard to fathom.

There are players in Michael Clarke's team who, until the past couple of years, knew nothing of Australian cricket except success. Josh Hazlewood, who may well make his Test debut in Ponting's farewell game, is too young to remember the match in which Ponting was handed his baggy green. Hazlewood was four years old at the time. By the time he finished primary school, Australia were firmly in the middle of their golden era.

The same goes for Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, James Pattinson. These are the young men who grew up knowing only the triumph of the Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting eras. They are also the ones who will help Clarke define his own era. Whether that post-Ponting period will begin with Australia at No.1 remains to be seen. Under Ponting, Australia's highs were stratospheric but the lows were pitiful, as anyone who saw the 2010-11 Ashes will attest. Fairytales, such as leaving with the team at No.1, don't always come true.

Regardless of what plays out over the next five days at the WACA, it will be a watershed for Clarke. Apart from the odd match in which his predecessor was injured, he knows nothing of Test cricket that doesn't involve Ponting. Clarke has been his own man as captain, more adventurous and assured in his thinking than any leader since Mark Taylor, but Ponting has always been there as a sounding board. The way Clarke choked up while speaking about Ponting on Thursday showed the high regard in which he holds him.

Whether Australia reach No.1 in Perth is immaterial to their long-term goals. Two years ago they sat fifth on the ICC's list. Rankings are fluid. Clarke's challenge will be not only to steer his side back to the pinnacle, but to keep them there. Five-and-a-half years might be asking a bit too much, but a brief touch of the fingertips to the peak only to slip back down will be unsatisfying.

"It's not so much the ranking, it's to be the best," Clarke said. "That's what you strive for every day as a player and as a team. We want to be the best we can be. That doesn't mean you get to No.1 in five minutes. It takes a lot of hard work. To stay there is even harder. We've still got a lot of work to do to get to being the No.1 Test team. Five tough days of Test cricket, and if we are lucky enough to get there, we've got a hell of a lot of work to do to stay there."

Just as a hell of a lot of work went into Australia's golden era under Waugh and Ponting, the presence of freakishly talented men like Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist notwithstanding. Besides Clarke himself, there might not be any obvious candidates to carry Australia through the next few years in quite the same way, but he has at his disposal the building blocks of a very strong side.

In 15 years, will Australian cricket be farewelling a Test veteran like David Warner, or Usman Khawaja, or Phillip Hughes? Who knows? They can all look back at the end of their careers and say they played with Ponting. That's not a small list: 81 men have played Test cricket with Ponting, nearly one-fifth of the 429 men who have ever worn the baggy green. Clarke's challenge is to give his players their own golden era to look back on.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 30, 2012, 11:33 GMT

    A Great batsmen,Captain and a wonderful Fielder. Cricket and its lovers will miss you Ricky..

  • Ashish on November 30, 2012, 11:30 GMT

    I have only one word to describe his batting " Fantabolous" ...... yet again a tchnically sound player has taken retirement in 2012 , miss you rick

  • Gautam on November 30, 2012, 10:21 GMT

    Now ought the Aussie Test team to feel the lurch - once Ricky Ponting has retired from the batting crew - of high water on realizing the gnawing apprehension that their batting talent coffers as of now are rather dry. Notwithstanding the fact of presence of thirty-ish debutants (heck, it can only happen to Australia) and, otherwise, hit-and-miss talents like Khwaja.

  • Bryn on November 30, 2012, 4:52 GMT

    landl47 -- be objective for a minute. have you ever seen a batsman as talented as usman khawaja before? was his name ricky ponting or damian martyn by any chance? there are only 2 holes to fill and if you add in mitch marsh then i can see a team that coule become greater than the 2000-2007 one

  • Bryn on November 30, 2012, 4:50 GMT

    the natural line of succession. australia has and will continue to produce great playera and teams it only a matter of sustainability. i cerainly think that players like khawaja, hughes, warner, watson, clarke, wade, cummins, pattinson, starc, lyon, siddle, m marsh, faulkner, bird, hazlewood not only should, but will, carry australian cricket through another sustained period of highs, how high? the sky is the limit.

  • Nadeem on November 30, 2012, 4:11 GMT

    first of all how can you forget hayden and langer from that great players list of ponting era i think ponting decision is perfect to retire now and give chance to a new comer before ashes 2013. we will miss you punter you were awesome.

  • pankaj on November 30, 2012, 3:39 GMT

    A truly great cricketer, legend and a fierce competitor,he was respected by all his opponents, when one looks back at his career spanning 17 odd years it was the best in ausie ere with greats like warne, gilly, magrath ,steve waugh. one can honestly say an era has passed. he was the most unselfish and uncompromising cricketer, and will be missed by one and all. i hope sachin also follows this legend and hangs his boots before he is told to do so. wish u very best in ur life and thanks for the memories Ricky................

  • Pratik on November 30, 2012, 3:05 GMT

    Such a master of the game. Deserves a fairy tale farewell.Go Aussies!!!

  • Jeff on November 30, 2012, 1:41 GMT

    Forget all the talk about Punter. (As much as I admire the guy.) There's bigger and better news emerging for Australian cricket today. Anyone who watched Adam Zampa bowl against Queensland this week will know that we have the new Shane Warne starting what will certainly be a long and prosperous cricketing career. This kid is a brilliant leg-spinner. He took five wickets against Queensland this week. But it's not just the wickets, it's the way the 20-year-old worked the ball that will have Australian selectors talking today. Here's an a tip from the fringes: Zampa will get a call-up this summer - either in a Test against the Sris or a one-day game.

  • B on November 30, 2012, 0:42 GMT

    Nearly 1/5 of Australia's Test cricketers have played alongside Ponting - amazing statistic!

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