Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, Perth

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

Brydon Coverdale in Perth

November 29, 2012

Comments: 20 | Text size: A | A

Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke at Australia's training session, Adelaide, November 20, 2012
The way Michael Clarke choked up while speaking about Ricky Ponting showed the high regard in which he holds him © Getty Images

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

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Posted by   on (November 30, 2012, 11:33 GMT)

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

Posted by Ashish328 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

Posted by goutamaniad 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.

Posted by jonesy2 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

Posted by jonesy2 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.

Posted by Nadeem1976 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.

Posted by pankaj60972 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................

Posted by Punter.Pratik on (November 30, 2012, 3:05 GMT)

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

Posted by featurewriter 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.

Posted by unregisteredalien on (November 30, 2012, 0:42 GMT)

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

Posted by Meety on (November 30, 2012, 0:20 GMT)

@landl47 on (November 29 2012, 13:15 PM GMT) - I think that is a problem a lot of Test teams have to face all the time. In Oz, we have plenty of options who could do a job ranging from a 30 average to high 40s. The only thing Oz does not have at the moment in Batting terms is a 50+ average talent coming thru the Shield. That said, we MAY not need to have one - as I do believe our bowling stocks are such that we SHOULD be able to limit opposition sides to moderate totals. It worked for the WIndies - they only had Richards as a member of the 50+ average club. As long as Hussey can contribute for another 12 to 18 months, Oz have the time to groom new talent.Of the current test batsmen, I believe that Warner has the potential to be a Test batsmen with a 50+ average, Cowan can carve out an ave of around 40, (Strauss played 100 tests @ 40). I believe that Hughes & Khawaja can ave in the mid 40s or better too.

Posted by Ozcricketwriter on (November 29, 2012, 22:57 GMT)

We may need to go through a period of just trying people on hunches, as far as the batting goes. Other than David Hussey, who they refuse to pick because of his age, there is nobody who is a standout that demands to be picked. There is Joe Burns of course; but he has too little experience to be certain that he is right. Steve Smith looks to have transformed his game, but he was so horrible last time that many are wary. Phillip Hughes is posting good scores again - but his technique is still so horrible that he is unlikely to succeed at test level. Khawaja is in a decent run of form - but still not as good as he was doing when he was last picked. George Bailey, of course, looks to have the technique, and has done the hard yards through T20s and ODIs, and, like Faf du Plessis, could come out of the shadow of being known as a limited overs specialist - he does have a FC average of over 40 after all. But whoever ends up replacing him, Ponting won't be easy to replace.

Posted by PPD123 on (November 29, 2012, 22:25 GMT)

Landl47 makes some very pertinent points. But i do not think hughes will be a success. Khawaja could still make it with some backing, but hughes is not likely. He will stuggle against quality spinners in the subcontinent. and even in places like Eng/SA and Eng he struggles with the bounce and movement. He is too flashy a player outside off, for my liking. Cannot see him prosper in the long term. One top order player who looked good for short while(before being dropped - and rightly so) is Shaun Marsh. I think if he gets the right backing and confidence, he is a player to watch out for. The guy can bat at 3 or 4, has a decent technique and plays spin really well. I would anyday back shaun Marsh over Phil hughes.

Posted by   on (November 29, 2012, 19:38 GMT)

A true champion I am never a fan of him but I can't ignore those pull shots, Punter sadly we will miss you.


Posted by Attractivue on (November 29, 2012, 19:28 GMT)

Hussey will be leaving soon after a couple of failed innings then you are only left with Michael Clarke who would be able to score big hundreds and I'm sorry to say that is not enough. To be able to score 500+ in the first innings you need at least 2 players who are capable of big hundreds not just one. Watson's inability to score hundreds and Warner's inconsistency is going to cost Australia! Australia needs Khawaja or Hugues or anyone else who is a sound test cricketer!

Posted by Syed_imran_abbas on (November 29, 2012, 17:34 GMT)

one of the Greats of all time. I regard him better player than tendulkar because of his match winnning performances and influances in other departments of cricket field. He is one of my favroute batsmans along with Inzi. My current Australian favroutes are Shane watson and Mitchell Sarc. And trust me Starc is going to best find among all other current fast bowlers for aussies.~_ Pakistani Fan

Posted by   on (November 29, 2012, 16:23 GMT)

Absolutely a terrific player, Ricky Ponting! The way Clarke is playing both as a batsman and a captain, he has taken a couple of notches higher already!!

Posted by hris on (November 29, 2012, 15:06 GMT)

@landl47 as you pointed out batting is the worry. Not that you would guess that by looking at the scores in the first 2 matches. But we need to find good batters. We desperately need Khawaja and Hughes to come good.

Posted by sweetspot on (November 29, 2012, 14:33 GMT)

A much accomplished player, perhaps a much misunderstood person, a grudgingly admired adversary, but most certainly an outstanding sportsman who gave everything to carve out wins for his team. Like a lot of cricket fans, I don't care much for Ponting's attitudes on many occasions, but in him there was something special that will be hard to replace. Clarke won't get another Ponting, but he as captain has all the mettle he needs. Adios Ricky, and hope to see you in the commentator's box sometime! All the very, very best for life outside of cricket too!

Posted by landl47 on (November 29, 2012, 13:15 GMT)

It's not only losing Ponting, but also Hussey in the next year or so that is going to pose the challenge to Clarke. Throw in Watson's inability to play a series without getting injured and he has a real task on his hands. So far Clarke has been magnificent, both as a player and as a captain. It looks as though he will have a good young bowling squad, with Hazlewood joining Pattinson, Starc and Cummins as seamers and Lyon a very useful spin option. Where the runs will come from is another matter. If Clarke can conjure a test line-up from the likes of Cowan, Warner, Hughes and Khawaja, he will deserve a place as one of the greatest skippers of all time.

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.
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