Ponting shows staunch support for Watson
Ricky Ponting has mounted a staunch defence of Shane Watson's qualities as a team player and also said that Cricket Australia's team performance manager Pat Howard would regret his implication that the national team's vice-captain was anything otherwise.
Speaking after he made his third Sheffield Shield century of the season for Tasmania against Victoria in Hobart, Ponting was adamant that he had never found fault with Watson's actions in the past, though he described the decision to suspend four players from the third Test in Mohali as "drastic" but merited in the circumstances.
"Shane worked as hard as anybody around his cricket, there's no doubt about that," Ponting told reporters at Bellerive Oval. "He's obviously made a blue here - I don't like to refer to it as homework because it wasn't homework - not getting his tasks done that were given to him by the coach.
"I've never known him to be anything other than a very good team player and a great bloke to have around your team."
Howard's words that he felt Watson worked in the best interests of the Australian team "sometimes" were hurtful, and the accused quickly asserted that those he had played the game with knew him better than the man who has been in charge of CA's team performance wing for a little more than 12 months. Ponting concurred.
"I think he'd regret saying that as well, but people are going to make judgments," Ponting said. "I think Shane said this on the way home. Pat's known Shane for 12 months and Michael [Clarke] and Shane have known each other for the best part of 20 years." Watson's strongest phase as a Test allrounder took place while he played under Ponting, and the former captain provided a useful insight into how he extracted the best from a talented cricketer who fought injuries and plenty of critics to be a consistent performer between 2009 and 2011.
"I loved every moment that I played with Watto," Ponting said. "To tell the truth I think I understood him and his personality as well as anyone that I ever played with. I tried to get as close to him as I could. I tried to know him as well as I could both on and off the field and I actually felt by doing that I got as much out of him as I could as a player."
Watson's chances of returning to India in time for the fourth Test in Delhi rose after his wife Lee gave birth to a baby boy, Will, on Thursday. Watson flew home from Chandigarh on Monday in the hope of being present for the birth after being told by his wife the baby was likely to be born earlier than expected.
His departure also coincided with being told by the team management that he would not be part of the third Test in Mohali due to his suspension. When he left India, Watson said the punishment was "very harsh" and he intended to use his time at home to weigh up his cricket future.
"I am going to spend the next few weeks with my family and weigh up my options as to exactly which direction I want to go," Watson said on Monday. "There are a lot more important things in life. I do love playing cricket and that passion is still there and I feel I am in the prime years of my cricket career."
His words indicated that at the time, Watson did not intend to return to the tour and it remains to be seen whether the early birth of his son will alter his plans. Clarke said on Wednesday that the best-case scenario for the team would be if Watson was able to return as vice-captain for the final Test, which starts in Delhi on Friday next week.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here