UPDATE 5-Cricket-Ponting steps down as Australia captain
* Most successful test skipper hands over reins
* Ponting to continue as batsman
* Clarke expected to assume captaincy (adds cricket Australia chairman quote)
By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY, March 29 (Reuters) - Ricky Ponting, the most successful captain in 134 years of test cricket, resigned as the Australian test and one-day skipper on Tuesday but aims to continue playing the game at the highest level.
The 36-year-old had led Australia in one day internationals since 2002 and tests since 2004, a period encompassing his country's absolute domination of world cricket and steady decline after the retirement of a golden generation of players.
With Cricket Australia under pressure to sack him in the wake of a home Ashes defeat to England and a quarter-final exit as defending champions at the World Cup this year, the tough Tasmanian decided to fall on his sword.
"I've had the chance to think long and hard about it and today I've decided to stand down as captain of the test team and the one-day team as of now," he told a news conference at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).
"I am really excited about the next chapter in my career... I think I've got a lot to offer as a player and certainly as a leader for some of the younger players around, if and when required."
He will almost certainly be replaced by Michael Clarke on Wednesday and said letting his successor have next month's tour of Bangladesh to start putting his own imprint on the team was a key factor in the timing of his decision.
"I think the timing was absolutely perfect," he said. "I wanted to make sure that the person coming in had as much time as possible to get themselves prepared and get their focus on where they want the team to go."
Ponting denied he had jumped before he was pushed.
"I'll absolutely go on record here to say that I've had absolutely no tap on the shoulder," he said. "This is a decision that's been wholly and solely made by me and people close to me..."
Australia won 48 of 77 tests and 164 of 228 one day internationals, including two World Cups, under Ponting. No other captain has won as many games in either form.
Admired but rarely loved in Australia, Ponting admitted that his tenure as his country's 42nd test captain would probably be remembered by some for the three Ashes series losses he oversaw.
"It's funny how we talk about losing the Ashes series three times," he said. "Playing on three World Cup winning teams doesn't come up every often, winning 16 consecutive test matches doesn't come up very much, winning 30-odd consecutive World Cup matches doesn't come up very often.
"I know within myself... what I've achieved in the game and I'm very proud of it."
Cricket Australia said the new captain would be named on Wednesday and Ponting gave strong backing to Clarke, who stood in for the injured captain in the final Ashes test and for the one-day series against England that followed.
"He's done a terrific job in almost every game he's captained Australia," said Ponting. "I totally would endorse Michael Clarke as the next captain."
Australia went to the World Cup looking for a fourth straight title but returned home after defeat to India in the last eight, their remarkable unbeaten run in the tournament having been ended at 34 matches by Pakistan in the group stage.
Ponting, whose reputation as one of the best batsman the game has ever seen is assured, bucked a poor run of form to hit a defiant century in the quarter-final defeat to India, increasing his determination to continue playing.
"I proved to myself the other day that I've still got what it takes to play a good international innings," he said. "Now that I won't have all the extra responsibility of the captaincy, I think I can turn myself into a better player than I've shown in the last six months."
Cricket Australia chairman Jack Clarke said he looked forward to watching Ponting continue to bat for Australia.
"Ricky Ponting has been an outstanding batsman, one of the best to wear the baggy green," he said.
"His leadership as captain has been outstanding and I sometimes think his brilliance with the bat has overshadowed his fine work as captain."
Ponting hopes to play in Bangladesh and on the test tours of Sri Lanka and South Africa later in the year and said selectors should resist calls for a wholesale clear-out of players in their mid-30s.
"What I think you don't and you can't ever afford to have in the team is to have a mass exodus of all those sort of players at once," he said.
"I think we've seen that in the last couple of years when we had a lot of the greats move on at one time. It left us very bare. It's been hard for us to rebuild and get ourselves back to where we want to as a result of that."
(Editing by Ian Ransom and John O'Brien)
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