Ponting's Ashes avenue kept open
Selection panel support for Ricky Ponting's place in the Australian Test team remains unanimous, and the coach Mickey Arthur has stated emphatically that the former captain is still a much-needed component in plans for next year's Ashes series.
In a staunch defence of Ponting, Arthur said there had been no discussion about his place in the team in the selection meeting to choose an extended squad for the third Test against South Africa in Perth, and that the panel's eyes were still on Ponting's usefulness over the next six months, leading into the first of two back-to-back bouts with England.
"All I know is inside that dressing room, and privately, we've all backed Ricky Ponting," Arthur said. "If Ricky's scoring runs, we certainly want Ricky Ponting around for the next six months. We want Ricky Ponting to go to the Ashes, there's no doubt about that. Like any batsman, though, you've got to keep scoring runs, and that's by Ricky's own admission. I'm 100% sure and confident Ricky will come through in Perth.
"We're hoping, we back Ricky, we unanimously back Ricky Ponting to get us some runs. By his own admission Perth is a big test for him ... but Ricky's prepared brilliantly, he's really given us everything we can possibly ask for."
Ponting, who has been named captain of the Prime Minister's XI to play West Indies in Canberra on January 29, had said he expected to discuss his future with the selectors ahead of the Perth Test, given a poor run of scores in this series despite entering it as the highest run-scorer in the Sheffield Shield. Ponting seemed bothered by the manner of his dismissals as much as his low scores, possibly intuiting the signs that his famously decisive batting had lost a small but critical measure of sharpness at international level.
Former captain Ian Chappell, still an influential figure in Australian cricket and close to the selector Rod Marsh in particular, believes Perth should be the final stop in Ponting's career, allowing a younger batsman, likely to be Phillip Hughes or Usman Khawaja, to re-establish themselves in the team against Sri Lanka, ahead of assignments in India and England.
"I think the selectors should say to Ricky Ponting, 'Mate we're happy to give you a fond farewell in Perth, but you've got to announce your retirement before the game', for the obvious reason that the selectors could get badly embarrassed if he goes well," Chappell told ESPNcricinfo. "But if you do it that way it then gives the selectors the opportunity to play a couple of the younger players.
"You've got Hughes making some runs, Khawaja now starting to make some runs. They come in against Sri Lanka, and as a selector what you're trying to do is give young players the best possible chance to succeed, so I think that would be the ideal thing for Australian cricket - to finish it off in Perth."
Rob Quiney's exit from the squad for the third Test may mean a swift end to his fleeting moment on the international circuit. Arthur said Quiney remained a part of the selectors' wider plans, but significantly mentioned Hughes and Khawaja as the next men in line, based on the form they have displayed in domestic matches this season.
"Rob Quiney knocked the door down and got selected on the form he showed throughout our local domestic competition and that's the way we as a panel always want to go," Arthur said. "You've got to reward good domestic cricket form. I had a quick chat to Rob, he's been simply outstanding with everything he's done since he's arrived in our group.
"Obviously he didn't get the runs he wanted but for everything else he's been outstanding. The message to him is keep knocking the door down because you never know what's around the corner and if he keeps his name up in lights he'll certainly get another crack at some stage.
"At this stage Quiney is right up there and I guess you can't look past Phillip Hughes, and Usman Khawaja is making a really good case as well. We've got some young players who have a taste of international cricket and when called up, or when needed, ready to step into the breach."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here