PERTH Ricky Ponting was moved to tears after his celebrated test career came to a close with a whimper rather than a bang on Monday when his beloved Australia side suffered a series defeat against South Africa.
The 37-year-old former Australia captain, the second highest run scorer in test cricket, said on the eve of his 168th match that it would be his last and he had hoped to go out on a high with a series win against the Proteas.
Those hopes were dashed by three days of brilliant cricket from the best test side in the world which resulted in a 309-run defeat for Ponting and the men in the baggy green caps.
"It's been a pretty long, tough week," he told reporters. "I know I've been more nervous this game than any other game I've played, just for the reason that how much it means to me playing or Australia.
"I was comfortable with the decision before this game anyway. I just had a bit more of a fairytale ending in my own eyes than what's happened this week."
Ponting was welcomed to the crease 45 minutes before lunch by a guard of honour of applauding South African players and shook hands with Proteas captain Graeme Smith before tamping down the wicket with his bat.
"It was just a sign of respect for someone who has given the game so much," said Smith.
"I'm sure we're all going to miss Ricky as an opponent...I just told him he deserved everything that comes his way and can be proud of everything he's achieved."
Ponting got off the mark on the sixth ball he faced with a vintage pull shot to propel the ball to the square leg boundary.
It was a rare flash of the Ponting who had dominated bowlers on so many occasions since he scored 96 runs on debut against Sri Lanka at the same WACA ground 17 years ago.
There was another with a second four, a drive to mid-on which reached the boundary courtesy of a misfield from Morne Morkel, but the end, when it came, was a soft dismissal unworthy of such a great batsman.
With lunch looming and just eight runs to his name, he tried to cut South African spinner Robin Peterson but managed only to get a thick edge on to the ball which ended up in the safe hands of Jacques Kallis at slip.
Kallis with 44 and India's Sachin Tendulkar (51) are the only batsmen to have scored more test centuries than the Tasmanian's 41.
"I felt Sachin was probably the best player I played against and that's coming from more of a captain's point of view knowing he had so much success against us in our conditions and their conditions," Ponting said.
"I probably lost more sleep on the eve of games to (Brian) Lara because I knew that he could single-handedly win games for his team.
"It's hard to separate the class of players those two guys, you have got to put Kallis in that bracket as well when you put his wickets on top of what he's done with the bat as well."
BASKS IN APPLAUSE
Ponting did not hang around at the crease after his 40-minute knock but was mobbed by South African players wanting to shake his hand as he walked from the field.
He looked back only once, doffing his helmet and raising both arms to bask one last time in the applause of his compatriots.
The statistics which will now forever be appended to his name in the history books are 13,378 runs at 51.85, an average lowered by the two years of patchy form that ultimately convinced him it was time to call time on his career.
"Normally for me when those big moments come around or I've been under pressure, I've been able to find something within and go out and score runs and make it all go away," he said.
"But I haven't been able to do it for a while now, that's when alarm bells started to ring."
The most successful captain in the history of the game, Ponting will be remembered as an arch-competitor who ranks behind only Donald Bradman in the pantheon of Australian batsmen. As captain he won a record 48 tests and 164 one-day internationals as well as leading Australia to successive World Cup victories in 2003 and 2007.
Ponting has been involved in his share of controversy over his career, from the callow but supremely talented youth to the captain who lost three Ashes series as the quality of players around him dipped.
"(I have) no regrets," he said. "I'll stand by every decision I've made on or off the field. Honestly, looking back, I don't think I'd change too much.
"I'll miss the mateship. I'll miss the dressing room. that's the stuff you can't replace."
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Patrick Johnston and John Mehaffey)
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