Ponting, Quiney wobble as Watson improves
Ricky Ponting may have only one more Test to prove his worth to Australia's 2013 Ashes campaign and Rob Quiney's brief moment in the sun appears to be over, after both were nipped out at the batting crease late on day three of the second Test in Adelaide.
Shane Watson's recovery from a calf problem has continued in Adelaide, where he has batted in the nets each day and shown increasing levels of flexibility while running drills under the eye of the team physio Alex Kountouris and the strength and conditioning coach David Bailey. Watson is slated to travel with the team directly to Perth on Tuesday morning, and looks increasingly likely to return to the team for the third Test.
Having acknowledged the need to make runs in this Test or risk slipping ever closer to the end of his storied international career, Ponting followed up his ignominious dismissal to Jacques Kallis on day one by playing crookedly at a delivery from Dale Steyn to drag onto his stumps for 16.
This means Ponting has cobbled just 20 runs in three innings this series, leaving his Indian summer of 2011-12 to recede ever further into the distance. Ponting's time in the national team is reliant on runs, and they are in short supply right now.
"I haven't spoken to the selectors anything about my immediate future," Ponting told Channel Nine on the fourth morning. "I'm sure that conversation is going to come in the near future but nothing has happened just yet. The disappointing thing for me about the start of this Test series is I have felt in really good touch, my Shield stuff early season has been really good and I actually felt I was batting better than I had in a few years...
"I said going into the summer that it really is a game by game thing for me. I can't afford to look any further forward, I've got to keep my head down and score runs. If I score runs then I will get myself selected. If I don't I will leave the door open for someone else to come in my spot. That's where it sits at the moment and we'll wait and see what happens at the end of the game."
Following the end of the South Africa series, Australia's selectors may be inclined to look towards more youthful options for the three Tests scheduled against Sri Lanka in Hobart, Melbourne and Sydney over the holiday period, ahead of tougher assignments in India and the back-to-back Ashes series in 2013. Ponting admitted the precarious nature of his place in the side.
"I'm a realist. I live in the real world and I know if I'm not getting runs I might not make the summer out and I definitely won't be in England," Ponting said. "But we will wait and see what happens at the end of this game. I'm looking forward to the boys playing well this morning and hopefully getting a good win here and we'll see how we go for Perth.
"That is really all it is. I've got no illusions or disillusions about where my cricket's at. It's just a matter of working hard and hopefully when I get a chance to bat in the middle I'm a bit more assertive than I have been in the last couple of games.
"Yesterday's was probably a ball I shouldn't get bowled on. It was back of a length and short and ended up getting chopped onto the stumps, but the first innings I got a pretty good ball. How did I feel form wise? Probably if anything I have been a bit tentative, certainly in the first innings in Brisbane was a tentative shot and yesterday afternoon was a tentative shot. It's not the normal way I play.
"It was a tough situation yesterday as well when the ball was starting to reverse swing and there were six overs to go in the day. I probably needed to be a bit more positive."
Among younger batsmen around the country, Usman Khawaja has proven his batting ability with an outstanding century for Queensland on a treacherous Bellerive Oval surface earlier this month, while Phillip Hughes chose Saturday to make his first Sheffield Shield century for South Australia, an unbeaten innings at the MCG against Victoria. Alex Doolan, meanwhile, struck a compelling century for Australia A against the South Africans at the SCG before the Tests, and as a career No. 3 for Tasmania has useful experience in the top order.
Quiney's dalliance with Test cricket will most likely be a brief one so long as Watson is passed fit to play at the WACA ground, and he will ruminate unhappily on making a pair at Adelaide Oval. Much as he did in the first innings, Quiney edged a well-pitched delivery angled into him from around the wicket, the chance claimed by AB de Villiers.
After he was widely praised for looking forceful though making only nine runs in his first Test innings in Brisbane, Quiney is now nursing an average of 3.00, and his chances of improving on it have been reduced greatly by Watson's improving fitness.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here