Time for Ponting to walk
John Inverarity, Australia's new national selector, said before this match that blooding young players was desirable but "you have got to balance that with picking your best side". Sadly, it has reached that point with Ricky Ponting where no balancing is required. Difficult as it is to accept, he is no longer part of Australia's best XI or of their long-term future.
Of course, at his peak he would be the first picked in the side. But with each failure, Ponting's peak becomes a more distant memory. A 36-year-old who averages 25.44 in his past 14 Tests cannot continue to be selected indefinitely, regardless of his greatness - and there is no question that Ponting is one of Australia's all-time greats.
Ponting has achieved everything there is to achieve in cricket and should end his career on his own terms. Even if he manages a match-winning century in the second innings in Johannesburg, he should not play on. Ponting has grabbed plenty of opportunities over the years and that would be the perfect chance to go out on a high, allowing regeneration during next month's series against New Zealand.
As Ponting walked off the Wanderers in his 156th match in the baggy green - the same number played by Allan Border, who bowed out in South Africa in 1994 - he kicked the ground in frustration. Another duck. Another lbw shuffling across his stumps. And agonisingly, it seemed inevitable. He was out the same way in both innings in Cape Town and once during the tour match in Potchefstroom.
With every poor result it gets harder for Ponting to make that career-ending call, for he wants another chance to prove that he still has it. For the selectors, their decision is only becoming easier. They have introduced Pat Cummins in this Test and he has shown encouraging signs. They handed Shaun Marsh a debut in Sri Lanka and he responded with a century. They want to give other young men a chance.
Cummins was not yet born when Ponting made his first-class debut, but this is as much a matter of form as forward planning. On neither count can Ponting continue to justify his place in the team.
His duck at the Wanderers was the seventh time in the past 13 innings that he has failed to reach double figures. His last half-century came in the opening Test of the Ashes, nearly a year ago. He last scored a Test hundred 22 months ago. He cannot risk becoming a burden on a developing side.
He has been overtaken by Marsh at No.3 and every Test that he remains in the team, he prevents a young man like Usman Khawaja or David Warner from being given a chance. It can be argued that they are not in Ponting's class, and over his career that is clearly true. But not this year. And not this version of Ponting.
"Test cricket is very tough to come in and do well," Steve Waugh, former Australia captain, said on Thursday. "You want to ideally bring [young players] into an environment where they're not playing the best side in the world but a team that's five or six in the world. New Zealand would be a good time to bring someone in."
To play Ponting against New Zealand might sound like a good idea. He could regain his touch against a side that nearly lost to Zimbabwe earlier this month. But runs against Ross Taylor's men would prove little, and would be no gauge to how he would perform in a tough home series against India.
In late 2008, Brett Lee was under pressure and took nine wickets in a Test against New Zealand to shake off any doubts about his position. In his next two Tests, he faced a much tougher South African side and took 1 for 249 in a series loss. He did not play Test cricket again.
Australia cannot afford to make a similar mistake with Ponting. Better to give Khawaja a chance to settle into the team, or Warner an opportunity to prove himself. They can't do much worse than Ponting is at the moment, and the upside to giving them experience is significant.
There is nothing left for Ponting to achieve. He is Australia's leading Test run-scorer and the third-highest in the world. He is the only man to have played in 100 Test victories. He has captained more Test-winning teams than anyone else in history. He has played in series wins in every country, a feat that few cricketers achieve.
He is in every way one of the greats. Rod Marsh predicted as much when he first saw Ponting as a 16-year-old prodigy at the academy in Adelaide.
Having spent close to 20 years with a single-minded focus on the game, perhaps Ponting cannot envisage life beyond cricket. But at 36 and with two young children, it can be every bit as rewarding as his playing career. It's time to take the blinkers off and see the bigger picture.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo