Watson next in line
Shane Watson still considers it a miracle that his body no longer falls apart at the merest hint of stress. So it is understandable that his ascension to the vice-captaincy of Australia, in all three forms of the game, was a little difficult for him to comprehend. Only a handful of years have passed since Watson was roundly dismissed due to his many injuries, and in 2006 he was lampooned for a phantom heart-attack in India. Now, Watson is a heartbeat away from the Australian captaincy.
"It really has been an amazing couple of years, and something I never really thought would be coming my way after my previous part of my career when I really struggled to get on the field," Watson said in Sydney after he was unveiled alongside new Test and limited overs skipper Michael Clarke. "For things to come together now to mean I'm vice-captain of the Australian cricket team, it's still hard for me to get my head around. It is hard for me to get my head around that I've been able to play for a number of years with the Australian team and be able to contribute the way that I have, it is something I never thought would come about.
"I feel like my game's in a really good place now and my mind's in a great place to be able to really have the mental space to be able to contribute as much as I possibly can."
The changeable nature of the vice-captaincy is a source of curiosity. Some, such as Clarke or a young Mark Taylor, are chosen with a view towards the future, while others like Ian Healy and Geoff Marsh serve as loyal lieutenants without ever really inching towards the top job. Healy was replaced by Steve Waugh before the 1997 Ashes tour in order to smooth the line of succession if Taylor did not pull out of his form dive.
Watson's role seems likely to marry both, for chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch is aware that Clarke's Test batting has been decidedly poor for some time. Far more successful with the bat in the past year, Watson, however, is lacking in formal leadership credentials, something Ponting seemed acutely aware of as his reign stuttered towards a sad conclusion.
"He hasn't had a lot of leadership experience," Hilditch said of Watson. "One of the big reasons we've made this appointment now was the reality is that Shane's such a good player he's not going to play much domestic cricket. So if he's going to get his leadership skills up to another level it has to be now and it has to be as vice-captain. So it'll be a learning curve for Shane but his first role is to support Michael."
Ever honest, Watson baulked at the PR-friendly line that leadership will add vitality to his batting. Instead he reminded all in attendance that his chief task when Australia resumes Test match duty in Sri Lanka later this year will be to turn his promising starts into match-shaping hundreds.
"That's my bigger task, even more than the vice-captaincy is actually turning my 50s into some bigger scores," he said. "No doubt there's something I need to continue my development as a player. I think just even over the last year or so being around the group and trying to be a leader in some way or help the younger guys … I feel like it's something I've always wanted to do, to help people out more than anything.
"That's something I'm really excited about, really trying to help the young guys out coming through, because I have been very lucky to come through an era of Australian cricket as great as it really ever has been. I know how lucky I am to have those experiences from a very young age, and I'll be trying to get the best out of everyone within the team."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo