IN THE end it was an emotion-charged silence as skipper Michael Clarke fought back tears that said more than any words could to describe the contribution Ricky Ponting had made to Australian cricket.
Ponting yesterday ended questions about his tenure in the national side by announcing the third Test, which starts in Perth tomorrow, would be his last.
The 37-year-old, Australia's highest test run-scorer with 13,336 at an average of 52.21, insisted the decision had been his own and was based on loss of form rather than loss of passion for the game.
"This is not a decision that's been made by the selectors - it's a decision that's been made by me," Ponting said.
"It's a decision that obviously I've thought long and hard about. At the end of the day it's more based on my results, and my output in this series hasn't been what I expect of myself and hasn't been what is required of a player in the Australian team."
Ponting will equal the record of the man he replaced as captain, Steve Waugh, with his 168th test appearance in Perth.
His tally of runs in the five-day game is second only to Indian superstar Sachin Tendulkar who has 15,562 test runs to his credit at an average of 54.60.
While emotions will be high when he walks out to bat at the WACA, Ponting said he was focused on helping Australia win the match and regain the world No.1 test ranking.
"I'll continue to play for Tasmania until the end of the season, but my immediate focus now is what we're presented with tomorrow ... that's an unbelievable opportunity," he said.
"I'm hungrier than ever - I want this win more than any game I've ever played in."
Tributes flowed in for the former Australian skipper after his announcement, South African captain Graeme Smith describing Ponting as someone who "never gave an inch" as a player, and was "always making an impact on a test match".
Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said it was difficult to overstate the contribution Ponting had made to the game.
"Ricky has had an extraordinary career and has made an extraordinary contribution, including through the example he has set for other elite players and through the excitement he has given fans, young and old," Sutherland said.
And Clarke, who replaced Ponting as skipper last year, reflected the feelings of the Australian players when asked whether he suspected the announcement was imminent.
"No I didn't have a feeling it was coming," Clarke said.
"The boys are obviously hurting, he has been an amazing player for a long time."
Clarke then choked back tears, no words needed to spell out how all the players felt about the man called "Punter".
PONTING FACT FILE
- In Dec, 1995 made 96 in test debut against Sri Lanka in Perth
- In 2003 became the second player, after Don Bradman, to score three test double-centuries in a calendar year
- In 2004 became Australia's 42nd test captain
- In 2007 led Australia to third straight World Cup win
In 2009 became just the second Aussie captain to lose two Ashes series
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