Ponting declares

JOHN PYE

Ricky Ponting dropped his guard momentarily, his rugged, uncompromising exterior cracking while he told teammates that this Test against South Africa will be his last. The timing, and the delivery, caught everyone by surprise ó none more than Michael Clarke, Ponting's successor as Australia captain, long-time understudy, and a member of the panel of selectors.

Ponting, who will equal Steve Waugh's Australia record with his 168th Test cap starting Friday in Perth, managed to compose himself and present a resolute image to a domestic media contingent that has speculated for more than a year about when the former skipper should or would call an end to his Test career. "A few hours ago I let the boys know of my decision to make this Test my last,'' Ponting started. He continued, "I tried to say a lot but I didn't get much out. They'd never seen me emotional before, but I was this morning.''

Ponting's wife, Rianna, and their two daughters were in the news conference room, along with his teammates, coach Mickey Arthur and chief selector John Inverarity in a unanimous show of support.

Emotional clarke

Clarke couldn't hold back the tears when it was his turn to speak in front of the cameras after Ponting, who will turn 38 next month, announced his decision. "The boys are obviously hurting at the moment. He's been an amazing player for a long time,'' Clarke said, before drawing a few deep breaths, taking time as he contemplated a question posed about the atmosphere in the room when Ponting broke the news. "And that'll do me for today. Sorry, I can't answer that.''

Clarke had only half-jokingly told a news conference after the drawn second Test in Adelaide on Monday that he hoped Ponting would rebound from his lean patch with a triple century in Perth against the top-ranked South Africans.

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