NEARLY 18,000 of Ricky Ponting's closest friends saw him provide the perfect end to his glittering career last night.
Australia's all-time leading run-scorer and statistically the most successful cricketer in the history of the game ended up top-scoring in the tribute match that his home town staged in his honour.
The 17,771 crowd, the highest for a cricket match in the state by more than a thousand, presented a compelling case for the venue staging top-class fixtures and was richly rewarded as a galaxy of stars presented a thoroughly entertaining spectacle.
From Hawthorn's Jarryd Roughead smashing Brett Lee's best for six to Matt Hayden (63), Adam Gilchrist (40) and Greg Blewett (59) reliving their glory days, North Melbourne veteran Drew Petrie (38 not out) suggesting an alternative sporting career and even Merv Hughes performing his famous crowd exercise routine, there were about as many dull moments as empty seats.
And leading the way was the headline act who completed his career in Mowbray colours within sight of where it started a quarter of a century ago at Invermay Park.
Ponting's popular and unbeaten knock of 83 from 46 deliveries, albeit aided by a gracious drop from old mate Justin Langer, received a standing ovation when he retired to allow his Tasmanian footballing counterpart Matthew Richardson some time at the crease.
In the words of ground MC Peter Murphy, it represented a world record score in Ricky Ponting tribute matches.
A perfect night at a perfect venue in perfect weather received a perfect ending when Casey Young, grandson of Ponting's early mentor, the late Ian Young, hit a four off Gilchrist's bowling to level the scores at 206 apiece and then hit the run to win the match for Ponting's team.
The 39-year-old star was further rewarded for his attempts to support up-and-coming Northern cricketers with South Launceston's Alec Smith claiming the best bowling figures of 2-29 including the scalps of Blewett and Mike Hussey.
The spectacle never looked like disappointing from when huge queues began to form outside the ground a full two hours before the start to long after the finish as the assorted stars signed autographs around the boundary while Ponting's daughters, Emmy and Matisse, enjoyed the freedom of the Aurora Stadium pitch.
After becoming just the third Launcestonian to receive a key to the city before the match, Ponting enjoyed mixing with his former teammates and lining up for a photo of the two teams together before another with fellow World Cup winners Dean Jones, Damien Fleming, Hayden, Lee, Hussey and Gilchrist.
Characters from throughout Ponting's colourful career were involved in the fixture, ranging from his former childhood neighbour John Kedey as wicket curator to coaching mentors Tim Coyle and Greg Shipperd as match umpires.
Assorted unforeseen circumstances prompted late amendments to the teams.
Phil Hughes was called up to replace the injured Shaun Marsh on the Test tour to South Africa, Andrew Symonds was stranded in cyclone-threatened Queensland and Tim Paine reportedly required hospital treatment for a spider bite.
As a result Tim Neilsen slotted into Team Ponting while the biggest basher in the Big Bash League, Hobart Hurricanes opener Ben Dunk, shared 12th man duties with Hawthorn captain Luke Hodge, who had a calf strain.
Young NTCA all-rounders Smith and Mowbray's Fletcher Seymour were delighted to accept call-up.