The golden age of cricket, witness to batting stalwarts such as Brian Lara, Steve and Mark Waugh, Sanath Jayasuriya and Rahul Dravid, was dealt another blow with Australian great Ricky Ponting announcing his retirement from international cricket on Thursday. Ponting, arguably the greatest Australian batsman since Sir Donald Bradman, said that he was retiring after the current Test series against South Africa since he could see that his level of performance was not good enough for the Australian team. Indeed, the double World Cup winning captain hasnít played any one-day internationals (ODIs) since he was dropped from the team in February this year, and his last few Tests have seen him plumbing the depths of performance. But, apart from his batting prowess, it is the team spirit (perhaps not sporting spirit so much, in light of all the sledging) Ponting brought to the game that made him truly great. Second only to Sachin Tendulkar in terms of most runs scored in both Tests and ODIs (and closest to him in terms of most ODI centuries), Ponting, nicknamed Punter by Shane Warne for his penchant for betting on greyhounds, was team-minded enough to voluntarily give up his Test captaincy to the younger Michael Clarke last year. From then on, he rallied the team under Clarke, lending the new captain valuable support as a senior player (contrast that with the Indian scenario for just a second). Even his reason for retirement was not that he had had enough, but because he wasnít lending value to his team.
The inevitable question, of whether Sachin will follow suit, of course arises. The manner in which Ponting retiredóplacing his team above himselfóunderscores the question of why Sachin, whose performance over the last two years has been decidedly lacklustre, still lingers. Simply wanting to play longer should not be reason enough to do so. Hard as it is to even contemplate, perhaps it is time Sachin took a leaf from Punterís book.