No fairytale for Ponting's finale
Who needs a fairytale farewell anyway? Don Bradman didn't get the four runs he needed to finish his Test career with an average of 100. It only added to the legend. It showed that he was human. Ricky Ponting, Australia's best batsman since Bradman, has been demonstrably human over the past few years. In his farewell Test, he too failed to deliver the nostalgic innings - in the first innings at least - that the fans wanted. But there the similarities with Bradman's finale end.
For starters, Ponting was all but certain to bat again. He walked off with the score at 5 for 43, after South Africa had made 225. It was the one consolation for the WACA crowd. Bradman's duck, also in the first innings of his last Test, made Australia's total 2 for 117. But England had been dismissed earlier in the day for 52. The chances of Bradman being required again were slim.
Nor had Bradman used a nightwatchman. When Sid Barnes was caught behind on the first day at The Oval in 1948, it was nearly 6pm. Nobody really expected Bradman to walk to the crease. Even Arthur Morris, the not-out batsman, thought he would be joined by a nightwatchman, Doug Ring perhaps, or Bill Johnston. At the WACA, Shane Watson was lbw with 25 minutes until stumps. The crowd stood to cheer Ponting to the crease, only to find they were honouring Nathan Lyon.
After Bradman walked out onto the ground, he was welcomed by a handshake from his opposing captain Norman Yardley and three cheers from the England players. Ponting was greeted by the sight of Spidercam, inescapable and almost intolerable, in his face as he made his way to the pitch. There was no welcome from South Africa; this was strictly business.
"I played the first ball from Hollies, though not sure I really saw it," Bradman later wrote in Farewell to Cricket. The same might be said of Ponting, who chipped his first delivery uppishly towards midwicket, just short of the fielder. Bradman was bowled by his second ball; Ponting pushed his between cover and mid-off and took off for a tight, twitchy single. The tension in his body was clear. There was no relaxed leaning on his bat, even after he got off the mark.
A pull in the next over gave the crowd a glimpse of the Ponting of old. Vernon Philander dropped the ball short and Ponting watched the ball onto his bat, not quite finding the boundary but earning three runs. Was it an omen? Was it a sign that this would be an innings in which Ponting relived his past glories. No. In Philander's next over, the dream was dead.
There was something fitting about the dismissal. Seventeen years ago, a Pakistani umpire was the least popular man at the WACA when he gave Ponting out lbw, four runs short of a century on Test debut. Today, another Pakistani umpire silenced the crowd with another lbw decision.
But back in 1995, Ponting and the fans had reason to be frustrated. Had the Decision Review System been available, Khizer Hayat's call to give Ponting out lbw for 96 to Chaminda Vaas could have been overturned. On the bouncy WACA pitch of the mid '90s, the ball would have comfortably sailed over the stumps. This time, the skiddy Philander trapped Ponting on the knee roll, and Asad Rauf's finger went up.
Ponting wandered down the pitch and spoke to his partner and captain Michael Clarke. Neither man looked confident. But on such an occasion, a review was as guaranteed as the standing ovation Ponting had been given while walking out to bat. Ponting and Clarke, Philander and South Africa, Rauf and Richard Kettleborough all fixed their eyes on the WACA's big screen.
There was silence as the Eagle Eye prediction unfolded. Red lights confirmed what the fans were afraid of. After a moment of realisation, they began to clap. Another standing ovation was delivered as Ponting walked off the field. He trudged past the ring of South Africa players celebrating their wicket. They did not acknowledge him. They had more work to do, and there would be time for farewells later.
Briefly, Ponting turned and glanced over his left shoulder. It wasn't clear if he was looking to the screen for another replay, or wistfully at the crowd, or if it was a more human impulse - like wanting to whack the invasive Spidercam with his bat. But no. That bat would be needed in the second innings. Unlike Bradman, he would have another chance.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here