Australia news March 31, 2011

Ponting must stay at number three - Mickey Arthur

No one is saying he is after the job, but if Mickey Arthur were coach of Australia he would keep Ricky Ponting at No. 3 in the Test batting line-up. Arthur, who has been informally sought by Cricket Australia as a potential consultant at the Centre of Excellence in addition to his coaching job with Western Australia, is adamant that Ponting should be left in his customary batting position after handing over the captaincy to Michael Clarke.

"I'm of the opinion he should stay at No. 3," Arthur told ESPNCricinfo. "I still think he's the best in that position, we saw that in the World Cup game [against India], but it will be interesting to see where he ends up. If I was coaching I'd want him at three."

Ponting and Michael Hussey will travel to Bangladesh with the Australia squad on Monday despite their advancing years, and Arthur argued it was vital they both be retained in the Test team for the unenviable task of back-to-back Test tours of Sri Lanka and South Africa later this year. According to Arthur, Ponting will be unburdened by the absence of a leadership role.

"I think it [not being captain] will free him up now. Australia still needs him to bat, they need Ponting and Hussey with a good crop of young players now," Arthur said. "The time is right to look at those young players and to build a team for 2013 [the Ashes] and the next World Cup. Michael Clarke's got an opportunity now to put his stamp on the team and he needs to do that.

"But he can only do that with guys like Ricky and Michael [Hussey] giving the younger players some experience. Touring Sri Lanka and South Africa are two of the toughest tours you can have. That [back-to-back tours] is a very, very tough gig."

The long road towards Ponting's abdication arguably began when the South Africa team coached by Arthur and captained by Graeme Smith toppled Australia in 2008-09, the first time Australia had lost any series at home since 1993. Smith regarded Ponting as his role model, something that became ever more apparent, Arthur said, the longer he led his country.

"They were very similar in the way they went about it. Both always liked leading from the front, and I know Graeme towards the back-end of his tenure took a lot of inspiration from Ricky. Even though their battles were very fierce I know Graeme respected him highly and always regarded him as almost the ultimate.

"I think Ricky will go down as one of the best ever. He had a fantastic time and was a fantastic leader, and I certainly know in the South Africa dressing room, he had a huge amount of respect. I think he's done it well, the time was right for him and he's gone out on his own terms."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo