Sore Ponting withdraws from Shield match
Ricky Ponting has been pulled out of Tasmania's Sheffield Shield match in Hobart with hamstring soreness, a week before the first Test against South Africa. However, Cricket Australia insisted that Ponting's withdrawal was precautionary only and that he was expected to be fit for the Gabba Test, which begins on Friday.
Ponting developed hamstring soreness during the game against South Australia, which started on Thursday, and on Friday was replaced in the Tigers line-up by Steven Cazzulino. Cricket Australia's executive general manager of team performance, Pat Howard, said Ponting could have played on and Australia were being extra cautious ahead of the Test series.
"This is a precautionary move to ensure Ricky has the best possible preparation for the first Test against South Africa in Brisbane next week," Howard said. "We've opted to withdraw Ricky from the game. If this wasn't a week out from the first Test then Ricky would continue with the match, but we don't want to take that risk. We expect Ricky to be fit for the first Test against South Africa."
Ponting has been the form batsman in the Sheffield Shield this summer, having scored 355 runs at 118.33, and is expected to slot in at No.4 against South Africa. However, he didn't enjoy that same sort of touch on the first day of the game against South Australia, edging behind for 5 having spent most of the cold day standing in the field.
If the Australians were to be without Ponting for the first Test, it is not clear who would replace him in the line-up, with no backup batsman in the Test squad. Of the other batsmen who have worn the baggy green in the past year, Phillip Hughes has made some encouraging scores this summer but failed against the South Africans for Australia A on Friday, Usman Khawaja is still searching for his best form, and Shaun Marsh has been dropped to club cricket.
One option could be Victoria's Rob Quiney, who usually opens but can bat further down the order. After a couple of productive seasons of domestic cricket, Quiney impressed with 85 against the South Africans in the Australia A game, a match in which Steven Smith also showed his improvement. George Bailey would also come into calculations and is a favourite of John Inverarity's selection panel.
Although Ponting is expected to play at the Gabba, the news of his hamstring niggle continued a worrying day for the Australians after the fast bowler Pat Cummins was ruled out for nearly the full 2012-13 season due to a back stress fracture. There were also disappointingly few runs around the states from Australia's Test batsman, with Shane Watson's 33 against Queensland the best score by any of Australia's Test top seven on Friday.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here