The hands of the old clock that sits atop the members' pavilion here at The Oval were almost touching in applause when Ricky Ponting stepped out to begin his final first-class innings. They were joined in paying tribute by the loyal locals who had shunned the drama of the Ashes to witness the final chapter – his impending Twenty20 knocks are mere epilogue – in the career of Australia's finest batsman since Sir Don Bradman.
The face of the very same clock was on hand 65 years ago to bear witness to The Don's final Test innings. On that August day in 1948, England's legspinner Eric Hollies famously bowled Bradman for a duck that left the game's greatest bat with a Test average of 99.94. Ponting, who finished with a Test average of 51.85, avoided such an ignominious ending with a stolen single through point. It was the first of 41 runs the 38-year-old scored before walking off unbeaten at the close of play.
In the process Ponting passed 24,000 runs in first-class cricket – not that the devilish Tasmanian would give a monkey's about such personal milestones; he has always subsumed himself to the team.
When he came to crease for Surrey he had but one job to do: make sure he was still there at the close.
When he skipped and side-stepped his way to the middle, his adopted county was still 123 runs behind Nottinghamshire's first innings total of 410. By the time stumps were called, that deficit had reduced to just 26 as Ponting and Arun Harinath, who made 69 not out, combined for 97 unbroken third-wicket runs.
While Bradman had to contend with the leg-spin of Hollies, Ponting was faced with the less threatening left arm of Samit Patel. However, at the start of his innings the Australian was making the Nottinghamshire all-rounder look like "Deadly" Derek Underwood such was his tentative, even scratchy, footwork. Whisper it quietly, but watching the 2013 version of Ponting initially felt like watching the Rolling Stones at Glastonbury, especially as his first boundary trickled apologetically to the third-man rope. But then something clicked, provoked by a caressed drive through the covers, and he could have been an untamed teenager back at the Bellerive Oval.
But Ponting bats in the present, even if the old fluency has not proved ageless. At seven minutes to six, with the hands of the pavilion clock almost as far apart as mechanics allows, Harry Gurney had pitched one short, a dangerous ploy on this sleepy surface. Ponting smelt it, pressed forward, then rocked his weight on to the back foot, blade pointing high towards the late afternoon sun, and swivelled balletically into his signature pull shot.
The ball raced to the square-leg boundary and, just for a moment, Ponting had arrested time's slow march.