Clarke backs Ponting to rebound
Australia's captain Michael Clarke is far less equivocal about Ricky Ponting's international future than the man himself, insisting his 37-year-old predecessor as leader can prosper again with the bat despite a dire Test in Adelaide.
On a pitch so good that South Africa were able to survive the final day for the loss of only four wickets, Ponting was bowled twice in the Test for only the second time - the first being on a poor surface at Delhi's Feroz Shah Kotla in 1996. Acknowledging his poor display, Ponting said he was tentative, and expected a discussion on his future to take place with the selectors soon.
Clarke, however, left no-one in doubt of his desire to see Ponting go on for some time yet in his summation of the No. 4 batsman's position at the end of the Test. Ponting's value to the team as a senior figure, a standard setter at training and a source of batting and captaincy advice for Clarke remains highly regarded, even if his supply of runs has all but dried up.
"The one thing we need to keep in mind, is he was the leading run-scorer in Shield cricket leading up to this summer. So he's batting well," Clarke said of Ponting. "We could all get out early in our innings. Every single one of us, the start of your innings is the toughest time to bat, especially when you're facing the best attack in the world.
"Once he gets in, I have no doubt at all he'll go on to make a big score. He knows how to make big hundreds, he's still as good a player under pressure as anybody in that change room. He'll just be working as hard as he can to get through the start of his innings like the rest of us, and then he'll cash in and make a big score, I'm confident of that."
Ponting's increasingly shaky place in the team appeared a less central concern for Clarke than how spent his bowlers looked at the conclusion of the Adelaide Test. With Nathan Lyon blunted and Ben Hilfenhaus exhausted, Peter Siddle's attempt to win the Test virtually on his own in the final session set a rare standard for commitment, and Clarke said more of the same would be required in Perth if Australia are to gain belated reward for two strong but ultimately thwarted performances in Brisbane and Adelaide.
"It's what's expected if you want to play for Australia," Clarke said. "If you want to be the best, you've got to dig deep, you've got to try to find a way. I pay a lot of credit to Sidds, he showed a lot of heart today, that's what we've come to expect from Sidds, that's why he's been a wonderful performer for Australia. That's what I expect from all the bowlers, all the batters. Sometimes it's tough out there with the bat or with the ball, you've got to find a way to have success.
"From all the bowlers, it was an amazing effort. Losing James obviously hurt us, I don't want to take anything away from South Africa, they did really well today. I thought Faf [du Plessis] was outstanding on debut to make a hundred, in conditions like that, under pressure. The wicket played really well, but I felt like we tried everything in our power - around the wicket, over the wicket, short balls, pitch it up, reverse swing, spin, I thought we had a red-hot crack. We did everything we could to try to win this Test, it was just unfortunate we couldn't get over the line."
Some scrutiny will fall on Lyon's spin as he wheeled away for 50 overs in the fourth innings but seemed to tighten up as a bowler on the final day. Lyon's arc flattened notably and he appeared to rush through his overs, but Clarke said the match would provide valuable lessons for a bowler who has played half his 30 first-class fixtures on the Test stage.
"I thought Gaz [Lyon] bowled really well through this Test," Clarke said. "Things didn't go his way, a few balls just went either side of fielders or didn't quite grab the edge, the wicket still played pretty well, wasn't as up and down as I'd expect on day five. But I thought Nathan did very well."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here