Ponting to retire after Perth Test
As emotional as anyone has ever seen him, Ricky Ponting lost his customary composure when telling team-mates of his decision to retire from international cricket on the eve of the third Test against South Africa in Perth.
For so long the stony-faced embodiment of Australian cricket, Ponting and other members of the squad wept as they came to terms with the fact a Test career that began at the WACA ground in 1995 would end at the same ground 17 years later. "I tried to tell them a lot, but I didn't get much out," Ponting said. "As I said to the boys this morning, they've never seen me emotional, but I was this morning."
If the decision drew a previously unseen well of feeling from within Ponting, its reasons were coldly logical and team-oriented. After failing twice with the bat in Adelaide and thrice in this series, having given himself the best possible lead-in via domestic cricket Ponting concluded that he was no longer good enough to perform at the level he preferred. For so long Ponting's watchword had been consistency - now he spoke ruefully of "consistent failure".
Other considerations included choosing the best circumstances in which to allow his successor in the batting order to get started, a question Ponting had also pondered when handing over the captaincy to Clarke in 2011. As befitted a man whose proudest career achievement is to have played in more Test wins than any other cricketer, Ponting was also keen for the announcement to inspire, not overshadow, Australia's tilt at the world No. 1 ranking in this match.
"It's a decision I thought long and hard about, put in long consideration about the decision, at the end of the day it was about my results and my output in this series so far," Ponting said. "It hasn't been to the level required for batsmen and players in the Australian team. My level of performance hasn't been good enough.
"I want to be a consistent performer, and if you look back over the last 12 or 18 months I haven't been able to perform consistently. I've had moments of really good stuff, and prolonged moments of cricket that's been below my expectations and below a par level for me, so there hasn't been one dismissal or one moment, it's just been in my own eyes reasonably consistent failure. That's why I believe the time is right now to be making this decision."
Following a poor start to the Test series with low scores in Brisbane and Adelaide, Ponting said he was troubled by the "tentative" manner of his dismissals. In Adelaide he was bowled twice in the same match for only the second time in a career that began in 1995.
That double was the catalyst for a typically frank interview with his first Test captain Mark Taylor on Channel Nine on the fourth morning in Adelaide, in which Ponting said he was soon to be discussing his future with the selectors. Discussions about retirement commenced during the Test, though Ponting said he always retained the support of the selectors, and made the call himself.
"I believe so, there's been all sorts of things in the papers the last couple of days and I know certainly with my captain and my coach I couldn't have had any more support from those guys," Ponting said. "They've been the ones who've been most verbal about their support.
"This is not a decision that's been made by the selectors, this a decision that's been made by me, and I'd like to thank all those guys for the support they've given me over the last 12 months. There were probably moments when they thought long and hard about ending my career and I'm glad I've got the opportunity to finish this way and on my terms."
The effect of Ponting's retirement was writ large across the red eyes of the captain, Michael Clarke. In summing up the few days leading up to the announcement, Clarke became so teary that he recalled the welling up of emotion that accompanied Kim Hughes' exit as captain in 1984. While the reasons were entirely different, the feeling was equally strong - Clarke could not answer another question about his team-mate, friend and predecessor as captain.
"I didn't have a feeling it was coming," Clarke said. "Ricky spoke to me after the Adelaide Test match and made his decision I guess over the last few days. The boys are obviously hurting at the moment. He's been an amazing player for a long time. [Deep breath and starts to tear up]… and that'll do me for today. Sorry, I can't answer that."
Ponting will play out the domestic season for Tasmania and the Hobart Hurricanes in the BBL. He does not yet know what will be ahead of him beyond the summer, but gestured towards his wife Rianna and children when queried about what the future held.
"I've got a few months of cricket yet, which I am really looking forward to. I really enjoyed the start of this season playing cricket with Tasmania and back with some of my mates - really I place I haven't spent a lot of time for near on the last 20 years. So I'll enjoy that for what it is, but this is my new team here," Ponting said, pointing to his family.
As for the question of his contribution to cricket, Ponting had a simple and affecting answer. While delivering it he came close to tears again, those his team-mates had shared a few hours before.
"I know I've given cricket my all," Ponting said. "It's been life for 20 years. Not much more I can give."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here