SOME see the writing on the wall. Ricky Ponting clearly spends more time with his head in the formguide.
The great batsman yesterday accepted with rare dignity his axing from Australia's one-day team. His equanimity removed the sting from what was a reasonable but, given Ponting's exalted status, potentially controversial decision.
Having decided to continue his Test career, Ponting was never likely to bite the hand of the selectors who dumped him. But his words seemed more heartfelt than political.
''I am my own best selector,'' Ponting said, accepting that his form did not warrant further selection after five poor ODI performances, and also his new reality. That is, having decided to bat on despite losing the captaincy, he will be treated on merit - with no wink or nod to his vast reputation.
Despite his admirable acceptance of his fate, you were left with the feeling this will not be the last time he receives an unwelcome call from a proactive and, to date, prescient selection panel. The greatest hint of more bloodshed comes not from Ponting's recent failures, but in his own words.
He said he would ''make the right decision at the right time'' about retiring from Tests. Yet everything about the latter stages of his career - and about Ponting - suggests that the decision will, again, be made for him.
Ponting's pride is such he will never allow even his greatest failures to damage his self-belief. That was evident in the way he talked about again ''dominating'' Test cricket, and in the disdainful way he treated a question about whether he was playing on to prove the sceptics wrong. Ponting plays only to confirm his personal estimate of his ability and capabilities. It is not merely enviable talent, but this pugnacious determination that has made him a prominent part of the argument about who has been Australia's second greatest batsman.
But like a fading actress hoping to take another turn on the casting couch, a great strength can suddenly become a terrible weakness. So admirably stubborn is Ponting, it is impossible to imagine he will ever concede he can no longer make the grade. In Tests, as in the one-dayers, others will lose faith long before he takes that awful, revealing look in the mirror.
Not that Ponting's time as a Test batsman has yet come. This summer, Ponting did more than merely justify his selection. Against an admittedly flat and demoralised Indian attack, he flourished.
Ponting joked yesterday he had disappointed the circling vultures of the media by deciding not to retire altogether. He wondered about the eulogies written overnight - the reports of his demise that had proven premature. That was an indication of his acute self-awareness. The odds are now heavily stacked against him, and ''Punter'' is one of the few backing the outsider.
In that context, Ponting has never seemed so admirable. The day after his international one-day career had been terminated, without so much as a blindfold and a last cigarette, he might have worn the persecuted scowl of a man publicly humiliated. He might not have fronted the media at all.
But by first accepting his demotion as captain - and even accepting the position of temporary replacement as ODI skipper - Ponting had already swallowed his pride. Long before chairman of selectors John Inverarity ended his one-day career, he knew how bitter the taste would be. Some will accuse Inverarity and his panel of discarding him like an old sock. That notion - as Ponting knows - is absurd.
He has chosen to walk the tightrope of international cricket without a net. So long as he continues, he will again end up splattered on the pavement - perhaps if he returns with only a couple of bottles of rum to show for his tour of the West Indies; perhaps after a torrid series against South Africa's pace attack next summer. Or - now less likely - after an unsuccessful Ashes tour in 2013. But as he showed yesterday, the manner in which Ponting's career ends should no longer be misinterpreted as a judgment of the batsman, or the man. Ponting knows the risks. He has chosen to die with his pads on.