Right time to go for brilliant Ponting
Unaccustomed to dealing with a crisis, Australia's selectors were not prepared to make the obvious call themselves, at least not for a while longer.
The nation's cricket fans had stomached a third Ashes defeat in the last four Test series against England, followed, barely two months later, by a quarter-final World Cup exit.
The man at the helm for all of those painful losses was Ricky Ponting. He had to go, but while the selectors pondered a while longer, he pre-empted their deliberations with a not unexpected resignation.
For a man whose stubbornness was such a powerful aspect of everything he did - both his greatest virtue and also one of his least palatable qualities - it must have been hard.
Ponting at the conference to announce his resignation at the Sydney Cricket Ground (Getty)
But Ponting, whose prowess as a batsman was only fortified by the burden of captaincy when he first took charge of Australia's one-day side in February 2002, has left at the right time.
Australian ex-cricketers certainly felt that way. Tom Moody, who played with Ponting in the successful 1999 World Cup campaign, said: "Punter's the type of guy who's realistic. He's a very proud man but it's time for Australia to move on."
And Mark Waugh, whose career also overlapped Ponting's, added: "I think the timing is pretty good. I think the Australia team needs some fresh ideas."
I was in the crowd at Headingley in July 1997 when Ponting, then just 22, hit his first Test century, helping rescue the Aussies from a perilous position in a mammoth stand with Matthew Elliott.
Scored under intense pressure - he had missed the previous eight Tests after being dropped somewhat harsly - Ponting's was a chanceless innings. The sure footwork that he demonstrated as he drove and pulled England's bowlers would become a hallmark of his game.
Senior figures in Australian cricket must have seen something about him they liked, especially as they stood by him when he went off the rails 18 months later.
A punch-up outside a Sydney bar landed him with a black eye and newspapers carried the photo. A fine, plus a three-match ban inevitably followed. It was not easy for a boy from a tough, working-class corner of Tasmania to make the dramatic rise as one of the country's most recognisable sportsmen - by then he had also played in the World Cup-winning side of 1999 - without some collateral damage.
Ponting admitted to a drinking problem and the Australian Cricket Board, as it was then called, sought to put him back on the straight and narrow.
So successful was his progress that he was soon back in the frame as a possible captaincy contender, a path that opened up for him when Shane Warne lost the vice-captaincy after allegedly bombarding a British nurse with explicit text messages.
When the selectors looked for a fresh leader for the one-day side to replace Steve Waugh, they noted Ponting's increased maturity, brought in part through his engagement to long-term girlfriend Rianna Cantor, a law student. And it was Ponting they turned to.
Barely a year into the job, he took his team to the final of the 2003 World Cup in Johannesburg where he hit a majestic match-winning 140 not out. There was no better way of him telling the world that this captaincy lark rather suited him.
It was a prodigious year of outstanding personal success for Ponting, who took over the Test captaincy as well in March 2004. He was effectively the second most important figure in Australian culture after the Prime Minister.
With Damien Martyn after hitting his unbeaten 140 in the 2003 World Cup final (Getty)
His first frustration as a leader came later that year, when a broken thumb kept him on the sidelines, and Adam Gilchrist duly led Australia to their first series win in India in 35 years.
Australia remained the pre-eminent side in world cricket as Ponting's management skills ensured he squeezed the best out of some big players with big egos nearing the end of their careers.
He was a little unfortunate to run into the a very fine England side in 2005, Michael Vaughan's men winning the extraordinary Ashes series that year.
But revenge was very sweet for Ponting when England were whitewashed 5-0 on home soil in 2006-07, the final Test series for Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer.
Having played in four winning Ashes series before losing his first as a captain, this was the perfect riposte from Ponting, whose indomitable spirit had revealed itself in the Adelaide Test of that winter.
The match itself will long be regarded as one of the most sickening defeats for an England team to suffer, given their almost impregnable position at the start of the final day.
Ponting later described Adelaide as "an amazing achievement". He seemed to relish the fact his team had been written off: "There were a lot of media who didn't think we could win, but we showed just how good a team we are and answered a lot of our critics."
That pugnacious spirit had been in evidence from the very first day of that series, when he pulled England's bowlers remorselessly for boundaries in a typical Ponting century that allowed him to set a personal stamp on proceedings.
A record-equalling run of 16 consecutive Test wins between December 2005 and January 2008 formed another illustrious feather to Ponting's much-decorated bow.
It was so important to get one over England on their home soil, however. And he failed to do it as the 2009 Ashes series went the way of their fiercest opponents.
Now that Australia were not winning so often, Ponting's somewhat one-dimensional approach to captaincy was laid bare, certainly on the first day of the Lord's Test that summer when Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss took toll of weak bowling and some ambitious field placings to put the game beyond Australia's reach within hours.
Ponting hits Ashley Giles through the covers during his day one century in the 2006-07 Ashes (Getty)
The victim of pantomime booing by English spectators by now, no more so than at Lord's itself, he had nevertheless earned their respect. And if any of them had been part of the Barmy Army that toured Australia 18 months later they might have told stories to their mates back home of how Ponting would stop to pose for photos and autographs, even a chat.
Journalists too will tell you of a man who has always answered questions frankly, and who - despite the enormous time he has to spend with the media - frequently gives extra interviews on request.
His detractors seize on the negatives - the fixed, unbending approach to strategy and his occasional problems accepting the authority of umpires.
In the Melbourne Test last December, a match Australia had to win to wrest back the Ashes, he could see the game slipping away. With no other outlet to channel his frustrations, he rounded on umpire Aleem Dar when a television referral was unable to back up his belief that Kevin Pietersen had edged a catch behind.
More recently still, and searching for form, he was reprimanded for causing irreparable damage to a television in the dressing room after being run out in a World Cup match against Zimbabwe.
Somehow, he dug out a century from the memory banks in his last match as captain, against India, no less - the same team he failed to beat in two away Test series after the Gilchrist-led success.
Having played at the same time as Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Jacques Kallis, Ponting's achievements as a player have not always received their due credit.
The only Australian to have surpassed 12,000 runs, he has amassed 39 Test centuries, behind only India's Sachin Tendulkar (51) and South African Jacques Kallis (40). His haul of 30 one-day centuries puts him second behind Tendulkar in the shorter format.
We may not have seen the last of Ponting as a player. One of the illustrious captains he succeeded, Allan Border, said: "The fact that he's given up the captaincy might just bring him up to play some of his best cricket over the next couple of years."
Michael Clarke, the man primed to replace him, has no easy task. Clarke is disliked by many Australians, both those who booed him to the crease in the recent one-day series against England and the 74% who revealed in a Sydney Morning Herald online poll they were opposed to him being captain.
Ponting may no longer be captain, but Australian cricket remains at a difficult watershed.