Ponting on Somerset's radar
Somerset are lining up Ricky Ponting, the former Australia captain, as their overseas player for the second half of the 2012 season.
Ponting, 37, has recently accepted that his career in international limited-overs cricket is over, but remains keen to continue in Test cricket. The lure of a final Ashes tour in 2013 remains strong and good performances in county cricket would send a message to the Australia selectors that he still has the ability to master English conditions. Ponting averaged 48.12 in the 2009 Ashes in England, but only 16.14 in the return series in Australia in 2010-11.
Ponting enjoyed a happy spell in Taunton in 2004 and has made no secret of his desire to return. He averaged 99 in three Championship matches (with two centuries and a half-century in his three completed innings), 99.33 in four List A matches (with a century on debut followed by innings of 46, 56 and 83 not out) and made 20 in his one Twenty20 appearance.
"I definitely want to go back to Somerset for another crack at county cricket," Ponting said in 2010. "I had a great time there in 2004 and I've always wanted to go back for a longer stint. Who knows what will happen in the future but coaching, playing, and just being around the Somerset group are possibilities."
When Ponting was dropped from Australia's one-day team he thought another spell in county cricket would be unlikely. "To be totally honest I think most of the county sides would already have their international players signed in and locked in for next season anyway ... probably at the moment that's an outside chance for me to go and play county cricket," he said. "There's no doubt that I need to be as well prepared as possible for I think it's the start of November in Australia when the Test series starts [against South Africa]."
The addition would underline Somerset's ambition. They have already secured the services of Chris Gayle and Albie Morkel for their Friends Life t20 campaign and Vernon Philander, the in-form South Africa pace bowler, for the first couple of months of the season.
Somerset have finished as perennial runners-up in recent seasons - they have been beaten finalists in the last three T20 competitions, were second in the Championship in 2010 and have lost the last two CB40 finals - and are hungry to go one better. They also remain one of just three of the first-class counties (Northamptonshire and Gloucestershire are the others) not to have won the County Championship in what is somewhat euphemistically termed the modern era since 1890.
They also have the financial clout to sign such players. They recently announced the highest profit in the club's history - £408,000 before their Champions League prize money - and have redeveloped their ground without incurring significant debt. They retain ambitions to host international cricket in the not too distant future.
There is a growing concern, however, that Gayle's availability may be limited. If Gayle patches up his differences with West Indies coach Ottis Gibson it is probable that the batsman will be included in the squad that will tour England until June 24. Somerset's FLt20 program begins on June 13.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo