Boxing Day Test could be final swansong for Ricky Ponting
Ricky Ponting should be able retire from the game with his head held high, clutching that treasured final high point
For many sportsmen and women, who make tough decisions in the blink of an eye, deciding to call time on their careers can be the most difficult and time consuming of all.
The public examination of sports stars when they put in a few subpar performances is extraordinary. But the inquiry is always far more fierce when a veteran performs below his or her best.
Phrases like over the hill or past their peak can cut deep, not least when you have performed at the top of your sport for decades.
Ricky Ponting is someone who feels the glint of the magnifying glass at the moment. And he has been feeling it for some time. The former Australia skipper has not scored a Test hundred in 31 inningsâ€™ and the media in his homeland, known not to mince their words, have been calling for his exit from the side.
Ponting is, undoubtedly, a great of the game. He has scored over 12,500 Test runs, captained one of the greatest sides in cricketâ€™s history and achieved almost everything there is to achieve in the game. Yet he looks a sorry figure at the crease at the moment, a batsman at odds with his form and technique and a man considering his future.
In the recent second Test against New Zealand the Tasmanian was dismissed in two of the ugliest ways ever seen. In the first innings he completely misjudged a length delivery from Tim Southee. Shaping to leave the ball, Ponting changed his mind at the last second and tried to whip it to leg. He was trapped plumb in front of middle and off and began trudging off before the umpire could even raise his finger. He followed that up with a loose and lazy shot in the second innings, ballooning a simple catch to cover after mis-timing a back foot drive.
It was perhaps telling that Ponting, who had been on a dreadful run of scores to that point, dragged himself off the field to a standing ovation after scores of just five and 16. It wasnâ€™t just the media that were sensing it was perhaps time to step aside, but the adoring fans as well.
From an English perspective, we have always wished Ponting the worst of luck. He had always been the spearhead of misery whenever England faced Australia in recent years. Yet now there is an image of a man that is stuttering to the end of a career that deserves a fanfare. It is hard not to feel extremely sorry for him.
Players of Pontingâ€™s ilk deserve to choose their own destiny. No senior player, let alone a batsman with a record like his, should be pushed out of the team. It should be the player who decides when itâ€™s his time to go. Whether that be at the peak of his powers, on an extreme high or when the time is right. But they key is picking the right time.
It could be that Ponting is beyond that point now. Perhaps he has been striving for that one golden innings with which he can hang his hat and say â€œthatâ€™s itâ€. The problem is that it just hasnâ€™t come and in searching for it Ponting has only increased the glare of the spotlight.
Fortunately, his coach Mickey Arthur seems content to give him another go. He declared recently that Ponting is in his plans for the famous Boxing Day Test against India. And the omens for Ponting are good.
He averages 57.72 in 14 matches at Melbourne on Boxing Day. His highest score there is also the highest in his career, and guess what it was against India.
All signs point to a fitting end to a stellar career, the end that he deserves. A wonderful innings in a show piece match against a very good side would truly cap it off.
Should it happen, Ricky Ponting can retire from the game with his head held high clutching that treasured final high point, savouring it for years to come.
For the rest of us, we can forget his recent slump and celebrate a player who deserves the adulation of the cricketing world rather than the constant questions over his age and his ability.
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