Assistant coach Langer wants Ponting at No. 3
Australia's new assistant coach, Justin Langer, believes Ricky Ponting should stay at No. 3 in the batting order when Michael Clarke leads his first tour as Test captain later this year. Langer has spent the past 18 months around Australia's squad as a Test batting consultant, but his new role for the next year is as the full-time assistant to head coach Tim Nielsen.
However, Langer will still work closely with the batsmen, and one of the major questions surrounding Australia's batting order over the next year is how to handle Ponting. At 36, Ponting is in his twilight years as an international player, but he showed with his century in Australia's World Cup quarter-final loss that he still has something to offer, and Langer believes he can remain a top-order force.
"In my opinion, now that he has relinquished the captaincy, I still think he should bat No. 3," Langer told ESPNcricinfo. "He could bat anywhere in the order, so I guess they'll be looking at what the best balance is, but in my opinion he is still suited to that No. 3 spot. He was a little lean during the summer but he's outstanding, and we saw that in his last innings at the World Cup."
Another of the challenges for Langer and the rest of the coaching staff will be to turn around the Test form of the new captain Clarke, who in the past year has made 367 Test runs at a dismal average of 21.58. The initial signs for Clarke's leadership, during the one-day tour of Bangladesh, were positive, but he cannot afford to struggle with the bat during his first two Test tours as leader.
Those trips will most likely be to Sri Lanka in August, where his ability against spin will be critical, and in November to South Africa, where he will need to counter a high-class pace attack in unfriendly conditions. Langer is confident that Clarke can thrive as a batsman with the new responsibility of being the side's official leader, in the same way as his predecessors did.
"If you look at Steve Waugh and Punter, Andrew Strauss in England - the added responsibility might be good for him. In a lot of ways, Clarkey has been like the bridesmaid for a while, he's almost been waiting for the opportunity to be captain and now he has become captain, I expect him to really grasp it and show great leadership on and off the field.
"Ultimately, great leadership on the field is about scoring runs. That's why I admired Ricky and Steve Waugh so much, because in their tenure as captains they've also been absolutely outstanding batsmen. Their statistics as captain are fantastic."
Langer's appointment came on the same day that Craig McDermott was named bowling coach, and between them the two new mentors have represented Australia in 176 Tests. The pair should bring a serious Test-match mentality to the group, and Langer is looking forward to instilling some of his wisdom into all the players, not just the Test batsmen.
"I want to really develop my coaching and not just be pigeon-holed as a batting coach, but develop all aspects of my coaching. That's what really interests me. To me, it's a brand new appointment, really, as assistant coach. With Troy [Cooley] going to the academy and Mike Young going, I'm looking forward to being Tim Nielsen's right-hand man and really helping him in this resurgence of Australian cricket."
Cricket Australia's general manager of cricket, Michael Brown, said Langer had been a valuable presence around the squad since he joined the staff in November 2009. "Justin's record as a player and then over the last 18 months, as coach, leader and mentor within the Australia team coaching group, speaks for itself," Brown said, "and we are all delighted he has agreed to continue his outstanding work with the Australia team."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo