Perth, Australia: Ricky Ponting has attracted the universal praise in retirement that sometimes eluded him during his test cricket career as friends and old rivals united to pay tribute after the former Australia captain announced he will end his 168-test career after this week's match against South Africa.
Australia's Parliament temporarily suspended business on Thursday to pay tribute to Ponting, setting aside weeks of rancor to express bipartisan admiration for one of the nation's finest sportsman.
"I am sure even in a Parliament ruled with the sort of lack of civility of the opposition we could spend one moment celebrating what has been a great cricketing career," Prime Minister Julia Gillard was quoted as saying. Gillard said Ponting's retirement meant "he is going to go into the next phase of his life with a lot of gratitude and a lot of thanks from the Australian community — full as it is with cricket 'tragics.'"
Opposition lawmakers set aside recent animosities and joined Gillard in praising Ponting's "superb innings."
"He is undoubtedly one of the all-time greats of one of the very great games," Coalition leader Tony Abbott said. "He is someone that I think all young Australians can look up to."
South Africa captain Graeme Smith said he was initially shocked to hear of Ponting's sudden decision to retire on the eve of the third test, which will determine which team is ranked No. 1.
"I've played a lot against Ricky and (he's) certainly the most competitive man I've played against," Smith said. "I think the way he played the game and intensity with which he played the game is a credit to him. I think he's always represented Australia with a lot of dignity and a lot of skill.
"From a South African perspective and a personal perspective, we have a lot of respect for the man and we'll wish him best after these five days."
Smith said Ponting had been an asset to the game of cricket.
Steve Waugh said he'd be proud to share the record with Ponting for Australia's most test caps.
"He's been a fantastic player and leaves the game a living legend," Waugh told domestic newspapers. "You tend to remember the great stuff. A cricket career with such longevity will have ups and downs and I always prided myself on how I came back from adversity and I think Ricky is the same."
Pace great Glenn McGrath saw Ponting's retirement as the end of an era.
"Ricky is part of that old era that is drawing to a close . I have a huge respect for Rick and would have him in any team I played in."
Ponting was sometimes considered surly by fans and critics if things weren't going Australia's way, but he was widely respected for his single-minded, steely determination to win and his commitment to the team.
"The thing I liked about him was that he was always trying to win the game," former test captain turned television commentator Ian Chappell said.
"He was always prepared to take the attack to the bowlers," he said. "He was a very aggressive player, looking to dominate. Not only a skillful ... batsman, but a very brave one."
Rivals and former teammates were quick to take to social media in praise of Ponting's contribution to Australian and world cricket throughout a 17-year test career.
Ponting's retirement even cooled the rivalry between Australia and England for cricket's Ashes which may have been the defining contest of his career. Ponting lost three of the Ashes test series in which he captained Australia, starting in 2005 when England broke a drought that stretched back to 1980s.
England batsman Kevin Pietersen was among those praising Ponting, joining thousands who expressed their admiration on social networks to describe his on-field rival as "one of the greats"
"I always got excited playing Australia, so I could watch him up close," said the South African born Pietersen, who is in India playing for England.
England wicketkeeper Matt Prior said "congrats to Ricky Ponting on an amazing career. One of, if not the best, batsman I ever played against and a fierce opponent."
Current Australian test opener David Warner tweeted that Ponting had enjoyed an "outstanding career and will be missed by everyone."
Michael Clarke, who succeeded Ponting as Australia captain last year after being a long-time teammate, was so shocked at the retirement announcement that he had to cut short a news conference when asked about the atmosphere in the room when the former skipper first broke the news that Perth would be his last test.
Clarke composed himself for a later television interview, explaining: "I'm emotional because he has played such a big part I guess for Australian cricket.
"He has played a huge part in my career. I have only even known cricket, certainly test cricket, for Australia with him. He is a huge part of the team."
Clarke has played 85 test matches, and Ponting has been beside him for all but a couple of those.
"He's an amazing player. He was an amazing captain, is a great friend and it's going to be tough to go into a test match without him being there," Clarke told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "What a player he's been. He's been a great ambassador for the sport — not just for Australia but around the world."