Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney December 30, 2010

There goes Ponting the Test hero

When thinking and grumbling about Ricky Ponting in his current state, don't forget that he has been Australia's best batsman since Bradman

If this is the Test end for Ricky Ponting - and it almost certainly is - it is not the way he deserved to go. Cricket doesn't always let the greats choreograph their departures and there will be no traditional SCG farewell for Australia's best batsman since Bradman. Don't forget that when thinking and grumbling about Ponting in his current state.

He may have been a limited captain with an equally basic team in his final two years, but Ponting, 36, was a modern master for more than a decade. He was not flashy and magnetic like Lara, or mistake-free like Tendulkar, just technically pure and unfashionably hungry.

Ponting was a kid who stepped into the team with 96 on debut against Sri Lanka in 1995-96 and walked back into the dressing room with rare fury following a terrible lbw decision. A batsman who would hook and pull when most others considered the shot too risky. A stylist who would spend as much time driving through the covers as lying under them. A tiny man who became a batting giant.

There were intermittent bad choices on and off the field, but he matured into the most successful run-maker in Australia's side and as a captain was on the verge of reaching statesman status. He has been in charge of the side's most painful defeats of the past 15 years, but he was always calm, honest and engaging when dissecting what went wrong. In Sydney today he laughed when someone asked him if he needed his eyes checked. Until lately he was always loveable with the bat, but it took time to adore him as a man.

Handed the captaincy in 2004, Ponting knew Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and a batch of other first-rate performers would soon be retiring. He stood up and held the team together for longer than most expected. When the slide came quickly he still he wouldn't give up. These were his men and he would stick with them. Even yesterday at the MCG he was talking about how desperate he was to push them back towards the top, more determined than deluded.

His record currently stands at 12,363 runs at 53.51 in 152 Tests, with 99 victories. There have been 39 Test centuries, but none since January, and he added just 113 runs in his eight Ashes innings over the past month. Watching him it was easy to recall The Foofighters' song Hero.

There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
He's ordinary

Sadly, Ponting has been ordinary for more than a year. A move down the order might have saved him, but it took a barren streak, a broken finger and another Ashes disappointment to consider a switch. Like the emu and the kangaroo, which stare at each other on the crest of the baggy green, Ponting was unable to go backwards.

The deterioration of his little-finger injury, which he sustained in the third Test in Perth, has saved the selectors from a major decision over how to handle the captain. A doctor has made the choice for them and it is most likely the panel won't have to meet to pick a Test team until August. By then the emotional attachment to Ponting will have weakened.

Of course he will always be the captain whose only Ashes victory in four campaigns was the 5-0 whitewash in 2006-07. But when thinking of his batting, overlook his troubles in this series and remember that he has been virtually peerless as a run-maker for most of his adult life.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

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