Mumbai: At first there were three and now there's only one. For around a decade Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting were the dominant batsmen in world cricket but following the Australian's retirement announcement the Indian maestro will now stand alone. While Tendulkar might still be upright he's no longer dominating attacks. It'll be interesting to see if Ponting's announcement has any affect on Tendulkar's future.
Ponting's decision to retire was like one of his punched on-drives; well timed. He gets the opportunity to have a final fond farewell and the selectors can then introduce a younger player into the batting order to face Sri Lanka's moderate attack. For much of his career Ponting has been a top-class player and the lynch pin of Australia's batting.
If Ponting took charge of the opposition bowlers Australia generally won because he scored heavily and at an accelerated rate. If the opposition took Ponting's wicket early they were buoyant and suddenly felt like they had a chance to win. In recent times, Ponting has remained a danger player to the opposition but the two Michael's, Clarke and Hussey have surpassed him in the pecking order.
Ponting's decline was partly age related but it was also hastened by allowing himself to be talked out of batting at No 3. Some players are born to bat in a prime position and Ponting, from his sprigs to the air hole in his helmet, was a number three. The moment he acquiesced to a move down the order he was admitting there were some doubts creeping into his mind. Despite coming into the South African series with plenty of runs under his belt, those doubts arose again after a couple of failures.
Following his retirement, Ponting will be remembered as one of Australia's finest batsmen. He'll also be admired for the way he played the game. He was fiercely combative and everything Ponting did on the cricket field, whether it was batting or captaining, was done with the purest of aims; to help win the cricket match for his team.
Ponting declared before the start of this international season that he would know when was the right time to go. He was true to his word and left before each new innings had his teammates on tenterhooks hoping this would be the one where he broke out of a lean trot. On the other hand, Tendulkar, at almost two years older, has the Indian population waiting with baited breath for him to brush aside a slump.
Tendulkar's decline has gathered speed since he concerned himself more with the statistical side of batting rather than constantly seeking a match winning contribution. The accumulation of centuries became his search for the Holy Grail but it hasn't resulted in anything like the joy provided by Monty Python and the gang.
No player is indispensable and the Indian selectors should know better than most. Following the retirement of that wonderful servant Rahul Dravid he's been adequately replaced at number three by Cheteshwar Pujara. The Indian selectors have no excuse for not hastening the succession process, as they've had choice of a number of ready-made young replacements.
Australia would willingly trade one of their prominent young fast bowlers for a choice from the skilful group ranging from Rohit Sharma to Unmukt Chand. Part of being a good selector is about giving a young player the best chance to succeed. Promoting him when he's in prime form is an obvious move but other more subtle decisions can also lead to a successful conclusion; like selecting the player to debut at a favoured ground or against lesser opposition.
When it comes to aging star players the selectors can maintain the status quo and know that sooner or later their indecision will be vindicated when the champion finally posts a score. However, in the meantime young players will be denied an opportunity and eventually their "right moment" will pass.
India is fortunate to have skilful and youthful replacements but there's more chance the Dalai Lama will be replaced than Tendulkar moved aside. Consequently, it's up to Tendulkar to replicate Ponting's decision and make sure the timing of his retirement is as exquisite as one of his flowing cover drives.