South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Johannesburg, 2nd day November 18, 2011

Time for Ponting to walk

Good timing is one of the finest attributes a batsman can possess. Ricky Ponting needs to show his by retiring after this Test. It's time to take the blinkers off and see the bigger picture

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.

Ponting has been overtaken by Shaun 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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • TheOnlyEmperor on November 21, 2011, 8:16 GMT

    The OZ board will keep Ponting on the pitch as long as Sachin and Dravid are around. If Ponting were to be given the boot now, his average would be be just about 53, VERY average. The Oz would then also see Kallis and Sangakkara go past him and Ponting legendary status would be as dead as the Tasmanian tiger. People would come and go, but Ponting would never be dropped. He'll survive the next ashes series and prosper when he plays Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. The Oz will keep chanting "Ponting is the next greatest batsman after Bradman" till Ponting scores a century and then claim "I told you so". As for me, I'm just waiting for Kallis to go past Ponting in the aggregate list now that he is already ahead in the centuries list...

  • GoldenAgePrince on November 21, 2011, 7:12 GMT

    The knives are out for Ponting, and there are not many people standing for him. The main argument against him is that other youngsters are not getting a chance. But all said, I think putting too many youngsters can also lead to the downfall of a team. Besides, Ponting in many ways brings to Australian dressing room, what Sachin brings to India. I think by his presence there, he can help groom new players. I think in knife edge match situations, you need experience of players like Ponting. Also, he can be a good help to Clarke in crunch situations.

  • maddy20 on November 20, 2011, 1:25 GMT

    @5wombats I have never seen you praise a player than one of your own, but get this. The no.1 position will not last long. If SA beats Aus in this test they will move up to 122 point and if England lose to a spin heavy Pakistan(1-0) they will go down 5 points and will be back to no 2 , 2-0 they will go down 6 rating points. Even a 1-1 draw in all tests will push England to no 2. End note, Eng will lose no.1 ranking by 2012 feb or even sooner(by Jan 7, 2012) if SA beat SL 3-0(SA will have 126 rating points, Eng has 125) and then ofcourse there is the tour of India where our spinners will tear through your batting lineup.

  • maddy20 on November 20, 2011, 1:04 GMT

    Regardless of Ponting's performance in recent times, he should be given another chance when Aus tours NZ. That will be his best chance to score some runs and build up some confidence. If he cannot score there it is safe to say that he will not score anywhere else and he can call it a day/selectors may show him the door.

  • hyclass on November 19, 2011, 23:29 GMT

    How is it possible for so many players to be performing below their best in a team replete with top level coaches.How are so many players injured so often in a team filled with physios,strength & conditioning coaches.How are those coaches appointed & by what measure are the physios employed.The wrong people,in the players are being targeted.So many arrived in this side & then lost form & fitness,that it must dawn on people that the players are in a badly flawed environment-hence Argus.Ponting is a master batsman.How hard can it be to coach him?Haddins coach was a keeper.What happened?Marsh hasnt played more than 5 Shield games in a season in over 3 years due to his back.Why was he selected as a long term option?Harris is constantly injured.Why was he selected for Tests?Warner has only 3 1st class 100s ever.Hes never played at the Gabba,Adelaide Oval & has 0 in his only innings at the WACA.His success has come vs weak attacks on flat pitches & small grounds.His record is full of holes.

  • dummy4fb on November 19, 2011, 17:33 GMT

    ponting should retire only after the end of indias tour of australia so that we can see ishant-ponting and sachin battle once again

  • Scube on November 19, 2011, 17:04 GMT

    @ Mikecricket & Travelunlimited: Pls note that this is already the last test of the series! This isn't a 3 test series! By the way, I don't know what Clarke was trying at the start of this series when he sounded a "Ponting warning" predicting him to have the best series of his career! Probably that added further pressure on Ponting and he now has one innings to save his captain's face!

  • cheguramana on November 19, 2011, 16:15 GMT

    Ponting is one of the all time greats from Australia. Also one of the greatest batsman in the world. There's nothing left for him to achieve. arguably, his achievements as batsman and captain are ahead of his illustrious predecessors, viz., Steve waugh, mark Taylor and Allan border. Certainly on personal milestones with the bat and as captain of world cup winning teams, he's ahead of them. The only blemish is that of having lost the Ashes thrice as captain, which is a first in Australian cricke history. But really, how can u blame only Ponting for that? Fact is, there's seems to be no compelling reason for him to continue. Sure, Steve Waugh had grand send-off when he retired. if pointing is waiting for a similar 'retire on a high' scenario, that's a bit selfish. Timing is everything as a batsman ! Among all the batting greats, perhaps only Sunil gavaskar timed his retirement perfectly!

  • m_ilind on November 19, 2011, 15:49 GMT

    Ponting needs to enjoy his cricket like Sachin, now that he is free from the burden of captaincy. He is too good a player to be dropped.

  • dariuscorny on November 19, 2011, 15:41 GMT

    @ 5wombats ur joy can be understood, as once in a lifetime English team can get to the number one ranking in tests.but sorry to say very soon u will witness ur team being toppled from the top position.say in 4-5 mnths time.well talking about Ponting i feel he is still capable of carring this Australian team forward as this Aussie team desperately needs a Legend of his class its just a matter of one good innings.we would love to see Ponting of old as the game needs players like him.come on Ponting

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