TOUR TALES | Weary WACA proves excruciatingly fitting for Ponting’s flat finale

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  • In late 2012, much seemed in place for Ricky Ponting to have one memorable last hurrah against the No 1 Test team in the world, the Proteas
  • The build-up had been both one of tension and relief as the Australian legend admitted he wasn’t good enough to carry on, seemingly liberatin him
  • Like so many other stars before and after him, his swansong fell alarmingly flat

For all the memories it’s created over the years, there’s a very good reason why the overly sentimental reaction to the WACA in Perth eventually losing its status as an international venue was overblown.

Granted, I only visited the ground seven times – three of them intermittently for media engagements – during the final week or so of the Proteas’ three-Test tour of Australia towards the end of 2012.

But I would be lying to anyone reading this if I said it’s a compelling place to visit.

In a nutshell, the WACA, to me, was run-down and bleak.

The lift to the Lillee-Marsh stand – where you access the media facilities – was out of order, to no-one’s surprise really.  

It looked like it hadn’t been serviced since the ground’s first Test in 1970/71 was held.

However, I was more surprised by the parochial and, frankly, inadequate media conference facilities: the subterranean gym underneath the players pavilion.  

For some it may be a fond reminder of days gone by in the amateur era, when pressmen with their pens and notepads loitered outside changerooms for a quote or two. 

To a so-called new generation journalist like myself, it felt lazy.

On November 28, Ricky Ponting walked down the passage with eldest daughter Emmy by his side.

His wife, Rianna, followed closely behind with 15-month-old Matisse on her hips.

It didn’t take much brain power to put two and two together … Australia’s most prolific batsman in history was going to retire from the international game.

This wasn’t exactly a shock.

The previous year, Ponting had been under immense pressure from various quarters to take stock of where he was going in the twilight of his career.

He had only made eight runs in three innings of the two-Test series against the Proteas and went to the crease for the second innings of the second Test at the Wanderers fighting for his place and his legacy.

Ponting produced a dour, 138-ball 62 that went a long way towards Australia squaring the series at one-all, memorably sealed by an 18-year-old Pat Cummins after he took 6/79 in South Africa’s second batting effort.

He followed that up with a fine home series against India, where he scored his last Test double century while also adding another ton and two half-centuries to his record.

But it proved a false dawn.

There would only be one more fifty in a tough series in the Caribbean and, as the Proteas arrived as the newly-crowned No 1 team in Test cricket, the unease over Ponting’s continued effectiveness was back.

Could he summon a final few heroic deeds and, at a stretch, hold out for one more Ashes in England the next winter?

To his eternal credit, Ponting decided it was time to go after harvesting just 20 runs from his three previous visits to the crease.

While it’s only obvious that it couldn’t have been an easy decision to make, Ponting’s case was complicated by the fact that he could easily have argued that at least one of those dismissals had been wretchedly unlucky.

That was the magnificent yorker Jacques Kallis castled him with on the opening morning of the second Test in Adelaide.

After hitting his first delivery for four, Ponting was on the receiving end of the best ball bowled on a day where the Aussies ended on a scarcely believable 482/5.

“At the end of the day, my decision was based on my results. In this series so far they have not been up to the level required of batsmen and players in the Australian team. 

“I’m glad to have got the opportunity to finish on my terms,” he said on that chilly, blustery day in November, his eyes clearly glassy with emotion.

I was happy for one of my cricketing idols.

His legacy didn’t deserve to end on a low note.

His mind liberated, Ponting now had the chance for the grandest of endings, a deciding Test against the best Test team in the world.

But as I walked out of THAT gym, I scanned the WACA again.

Something felt wrong, underwhelming.

Was this much-loved but maligned arena really the place where Ricky Ponting had to say goodbye?

My stomach felt a bit queasy on the second morning when Vernon Philander trapped him in front as Australia slipped to 43/5.

They would concede an unexpected lead of 62, which the Proteas transformed into a mammoth 631.

Again, I was relieved.

Dale Steyn and co weren’t going to let that winning platform go to waste, but I also felt the hopelessness of the Aussies situation would allow Ponting the freedom for one last hurrah.

In at 81/2, the legendary right-hander didn’t look entirely comfortable.

But his first two scoring shots were boundaries and, with almost two days left to play, he had time on his side.

Robin Peterson, the same left-arm spinner who once conceded a world record 28 runs in a single over to the genius that was Brian Lara, had other ideas.

Considerably wiser and cannier, he landed one just a bit shorter of a length.

There wasn’t much turn on offer, but the extra bounce put Ponting in an awkward position despite being on the back foot.

Kallis’ buckets swallowed the edge to slip.

South Africa gave him a guard of honour.

Ponting stood halfway between the middle and the boundary towards the players pavilion, raising his helmet and bat like he’d scored another double century.

The big screen next to the Inverarity stand had “THANKS RICKY” emblazoned in gold.

He had made eight in his final innings.

His last 11 visits produced 198 runs at an average of 18 – in stark contrast to the 13 378 he piled up in 168 Tests.

Back in the gym after the Proteas secured a 309-run victory and a 1-0 series, Ponting shed tears when it came to the thank yous. 

It was poignant.

But as he walked out of that cramped room and I took my final flight down the stairs with broken elevator next to me, thinking again how the WACA could do with a coat of paint, I realised … it wasn’t memorable. 

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