Ponting enters hyperbaric chamber in fitness race
Phillip Hughes is a strong chance to be added to Australia's squad for the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan as Ricky Ponting remains in doubt with an elbow tendon injury. Ponting is still hopeful of playing, despite struggling to hold his bat at the WACA this week, and has had his first session in a hyperbaric chamber to speed up the healing.
However, the selectors will name a back-up batsman in case the captain is forced to miss a Test for the first time in five years. Hughes, who was dropped during the Ashes tour, will be at the head of the queue after impressing on Saturday with 122 for New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield in Newcastle. However, that would force the selectors to make a compromise by either batting Hughes away from his usual opening position or breaking up the promising Shane Watson-Simon Katich partnership.
"It's great to see him make a hundred yesterday," Ponting said. "It's good to see him back in the runs again, that's exactly what we want from him, to go back and dominate Sheffield Shield cricket again. And now couldn't be better timing for him either. His name will certainly be one that comes up.
"What we've got to decide is if we want to pick a specialist No. 3 batsman or if we shuffle the order around and pick someone else to bat in the middle order. That's what we need to talk about over the next little bit. I'll have a talk to Michael Clarke about that today and the coach and [selector] Merv [Hughes] is here. We'll have a good talk about that this afternoon and get that list of players down to as few as possible for that spot."
Another option mentioned by the coach Tim Nielsen was Shaun Marsh, who does not open in first-class cricket, while South Australia's No. 3 Michael Klinger also posted a timely hundred this weekend. If Hughes gets the nod and Ponting is ruled out, Australia will also consider moving Katich, who for most of his career has not been an opener, down to No. 3.
"That's one thing we've had a quick chat about at the moment, not with Katto yet, just a chat between Pup and I about that," Ponting said. "What we don't want to do is disrupt everything and change the whole batting order around when it might only be for one Test, and that's if I don't come up. So there's lots of things we've got to weigh up there."
However, Ponting is still optimistic about his chances of leading the side in the opening Test against Pakistan, which begins in six days. He suffered the injury in the first innings when he misjudged a bouncer from Kemar Roach and was struck on the left elbow, which left him with a tendon problem that the physio Alex Kountouris likened to "when you get meat and bash it with a mallet".
It left him unable to grip the bat properly and although he did bat briefly at No. 9 in Australia's second innings, he was clearly uncomfortable and unable to play normally. In an effort to do everything possible to make himself available, Ponting spent Saturday night - the evening of his 35th birthday - in a hyperbaric chamber.
"I spent a couple of hours in there last night," Ponting said. "It wasn't the most pleasant experience of my life, especially on my birthday night when I was looking forward to maybe finishing off a Test match. So I'm doing everything that I can. I'll probably have a few more of those treatments over the next couple of days."
A similar problem forced Damien Martyn to miss a Test three years ago, although Ponting stressed that their injuries were not identical. He won't go into the nets over the next few days and Australia will wait until much closer to the match before deciding if Ponting will sit out and hand the Test captaincy to Clarke for the first time.
"I haven't picked up a bat since I batted in the second innings the other day and probably won't touch a bat again for the next couple of days just to give it as much recovery as I possibly can," Ponting said. "But it seems to be coming along pretty well so I'll keep my fingers crossed and hope I'm okay."
Australia will also be keeping a close eye on the fast bowlers Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle, who missed the WACA Test through injury. Hilfenhaus, who is battling knee tendonitis, took four wickets in a club game in Hobart on Saturday, while Siddle (hamstring) is likely to play in Victoria's FR Cup match on Wednesday.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo