No one is guaranteed a start - Arthur
Ricky Ponting remains vital to the development of Australia's Test side but cannot keep earning a place in the team based on his reputation, according to the coach Mickey Arthur. As Australia's batsmen began their batting camp in Melbourne on Tuesday ahead of the Boxing Day Test against India, the selectors were faced with some tough decisions over the make-up of the squad.
The batting order was especially fluid, with questions over whether Shane Watson and Shaun Marsh would return from injury, whether Daniel Christian would be squeezed in as an allrounder, and whether the irresistible form of the opener Ed Cowan could be ignored. And while Ponting is expected to play at the MCG, Arthur said nobody was a certainty to take on the Indians.
"I don't think anybody is guaranteed a start," Arthur said. "Ricky Ponting is really vital to where we want to take this team so we're really hoping he finds his form and hopefully his form is just around the corner. We'll discuss that again tonight and make sure we've got all our bases covered in terms of selection."
Following Australia's loss in Hobart, their first defeat at the hands of New Zealand in 18 years, Arthur said he viewed Ponting and Michael Hussey, who are struggling for runs, as important men in the future of the side due to their middle-order experience. And while Arthur still believed they have roles to play, he said both men would need Test runs to continue justifying their selection.
"I have backed Ricky Ponting like I've backed Mike Hussey for a period of time because I think they're crucial for the development of the side," Arthur said. "For our young guys to bat with guys like that is fantastic, but again they need to keep giving us ammunition.
"They need to keep giving us performances. Nobody has got a privilege to play in the Australian cricket team. They are the type of characters that we want in our side, most definitely."
Ponting, who turned 37 on Monday, showed glimpses of his previous form when he made 62 in Johannesburg and 78 at the Gabba over the past month, but his dismissals in both innings at Bellerive Oval were clumsy. He walked across his stumps in the first innings and was lbw as he was caught in two minds, and in the second his attempted punch through the off side resulted in a loopy lob to cover.
In his past 16 Tests, Ponting has averaged 27.48 and has not scored a century. Arthur said over the next two days at the batting camp in Melbourne, the plan for Ponting was to "free him up" ahead of a series against an Indian attack that could feature Ishant Sharma, the fast bowler who has dismissed Ponting six times from eight Tests.
Arthur said while the batsmen would work against the moving ball at the batting camp - a weakness that was again exposed against New Zealand in Hobart - and would face bowling machines designed to replicate Ishant and Zaheer Khan, major technical overhauls were not on the agenda.
"This is giving us the best opportunity for us to be in the best possible space for Boxing Day. That's it," he said. "We're not reinventing the wheel in any way, we're giving our batters the maximum opportunity to get themselves ready to play a Test match starting on Boxing Day. We feel there are one or two things we need to discuss.
"We're also going to have a look at India, we're going to talk about their attack, talk about what we can expect from them and practice accordingly. It's certainly no boot camp. It's giving our batters an opportunity to get themselves into the best possible frame of mind for the 26th."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo