Ricky Ponting announced his retirement from international cricket today.
In all Test cricket played since he made his debut on December 8, 1995, no one has scored more Test runs than him. He is also the winningest Test captain and player in history and, though there is no official yardstick for this, is probably the most decorated one-day international cricketer in history as well.
Ricky Ponting isn't defined by records or distinctions. He hasn't revolutionised the game he played, nor did he do anything to become particularly unforgettable. Yet, he has meant so much for so many years that it will be difficult to watch his team play without him.
There was always something in him that told you that he was his harshest critic and that any decision he took about when to quit (and, let's be honest, we knew it was coming) was likely going to be internally over-analysed to vanishing point. So when he said this morning that he'd thought long and hard about this, it was instructive that he stretched the words "long" and "hard" more than usual. But perhaps not more than necessary.
It is this willingness to apply this usually outward standard inwards in the press release that elevated him to the absolute top bracket of sportspersons in my estimation today. I don't think I've ever heard the words "consistent failure" and "not good enough" said so forcefully and so honestly at a cricket retirement before. Boxing, maybe - but not cricket.
Ultimately, that's what has me saddened about today - that Ponting has been brutally honest when, for most of his career, the rest of the world has consistently called him a cheat; that he has graciously stepped aside with utmost humility when he has, on so many occasions, been called egotistical and that he has recognised his limitations when there are others who are too defiantly proud to do what's right. I will miss Ponting the cricketer but I will miss Ponting the competitor far more than words can describe.
Lastly, because I haven't done this kind of thing in a while and because I can't think of another batsman I've seen deserve it more, here's my list of Ponting's top 15 (I wanted to do 10 but got carried away) Test batting performances:
15. 96 & 51 v. Sri Lanka at Kandy, 1999
Walked in at 4/16 in the first innings and was last man out at 188; a defiant lone hand against Murali and Vaas at their devastating best.
14. 106 & 86* v. New Zealand at Auckland, 2005
A total massacre of a very fine New Zealand attack.
13. 221 v. India at Adelaide, 2012
The 'I can still hack it at this level' innings. Probably his last great Test outing for the Aussies.
12. 100* v. South Africa at Cape Town, 2002
He and Hayden hammered South Africa at over 4 an over to enable Australia to chase down 334 in the fourth innings in a little over six hours.
11. 77 & 72 v. India at Bangalore, 2010
He kicked, scratched and clawed his way to two fifties in conditions he never mastered but refused to give up in. His last Test in India.
10. 62 v. South Africa at Jo'burg, 2011
The definition of a career-saving innings - came out all guns blazing against the best bowling attack in the world despite no fifty in his previous thirteen innings. Gave the impetus for an amazing 310 chase in the fourth innings. Would almost certainly have been his last Test if he hadn't delivered.
9. 101 & 99 v. South Africa at the MCG, 2008
Australia's third innings collapse was only a little less heart-breaking than watching him get dismissed for the only 99 of his Test career.
8. 257 v. India at the MCG, 2003
His highest Test score and longest Test innings was a slow, torturous pulverisation of the Adelaide-high Indians who had threatened to run away with the game after Sehwag's excellent innings on the first day.
7. 149 & 104* v. West Indies at The 'Gabba, 2005
A double-whammy that deflated a very promising Windies attack including Edwards, Collymore, Powell and Lawson and set up another comfortable home series whitewash.
6. 141 v. Pakistan at Colombo (PSS), 2003
A game remembered for Warne finally coming good at a largely-empty stadium in the sub-continent but a win set up by an imperious 163-ball effort that took apart an attack of Waqar, Shoaib, Razzaq, Sami and Saqlain.
5. 196 & 60* v. England at The 'Gabba, 2006
Completely demoralised the best English bowling attack of this generation with a chanceless Day 1 hundred in the first Ashes Test. England never really recovered and surrendered to a 5-0 demolition.
4. 103 & 116 v. South Africa at Durban, 2006
A breathtaking batting display on the fastest wicket in the world which sealed a sweet, sweet series win in South Africa.
3. 144 & 72 v. England at Leeds, 2005
It turned out to be Mark Butcher's finest hour for England but it was preceded by one of Ponting's finest solo performances, featuring his first hundred at No. 3 - a barely believable 154-ball 144 in the first innings - and a run-a-ball 72 in the second on a typical Headingly greentop. Even more astonishing when you consider the immense pressure Ponting was under having not crossed fifty in a Test innings in eleven innings prior.
2. 120 & 143* v. South Africa at the SCG, 2006
Two knock-out hundreds - the first dragging a first-innings performance out of a batting unit that was staring down the barrel at 3/54 in response to 450-odd and the second being very possibly the finest I've ever seen him bat as he and Hayden hit boundaries at will to turn a 100+ run first-innings deficit into a swaggering 8-wicket win with time to spare.
1. 156 v. England at Manchester, 2005
This generation's standard-bearer for a match-saving fourth-innings hundred - an absolute masterpiece that didn't, for a minute, compromise his attacking instincts and helped the Aussies to a famous draw.
I really can't imagine an Aussie batting line-up without him. A precocious kid with a ferocious pull shot is now an unforgettable man with probably the greatest winning legacy in the history of the sport. Thank you for all that you have given and, if there's any justice in this world, this journey will end at the WACA with a new world No. 1 Test team.