WHEN Sir Donald Bradman made a second-ball duck in his last Test innings in 1948, the man who was closest to him, England's wicketkeeper Godfrey Evans, said to himself: ''What is a nought in such a fabulous career, even such a nought at such a time''.
Ricky Ponting at least made eight runs more than Bradman in his final innings, and those eight runs will weigh lightly against the 13,370 he scored in his previous 286 trips to the wicket in 168 Test matches.
As with Bradman in London, the crowd fell silent for Ponting in Perth. A healthy Monday attendance had cheered each of the first three balls Ponting had faced, against the harmless-looking South African spinner Robin Peterson. He had avoided the Bradman moment! Their relief at his survival turned to stone some 40 minutes later when Ponting snicked the same Peterson to Jacques Kallis, his nemesis who continues to shrug off cricketing mortality.
There was an eerie quiet as Ponting walked off, a collective skipped heartbeat. The realisation sank in when the South African players interrupted their celebrations to chase Ponting and individually shake his hand. Only then did the crowd pay tribute.
Ponting turned and raised his arms. His bat accepted the applause, and his other hand apologised.
While Bradman had the consolation of victory in his last Test match, Ponting's anticlimax was wrapped up within his team's.
After coming to the brink of taking the world No.1 ranking from South Africa in Adelaide a week ago, Australia tumbled to a 309-run defeat.
Their priority now will be consolidating a more realistic world No.2 ranking in the coming Test series against Sri Lanka, India and England. They will do so with a Ponting-shaped hole in their slips cordon.
Another great Australian cricketer, Richie Benaud, said you should ''leave them wanting more''.
Ponting's timing was less satisfying, perhaps, but more true to life. He had given 17 years to Australian Test cricket but only 32 runs in five innings in this series.
Many cricket fans would still have wanted more, but Ponting's stores had run dry.