Time for a break
Test rest days are a cobwebbed notion, but an extended break between the five-day and one-day series is essential for recharging and refreshing. It might even help restrict the disciplinary problems that blighted the team during the transition from whites to pyjamas. Stressed cricketers performing below their best are not fun to watch and degrade the standard of a flagship tournament.
What the players - and cricket - desire is fewer one-day matches and greater downtime between smaller tournaments. Ponting's decision to hand over the captaincy to Adam Gilchrist for two matches, including Thursday's Australia-Day win over Sri Lanka, created a reaction as loud as the ovations he received throughout a summer of 944 Test runs. His rest even made it to radio talkback on a rock station usually interested only in topics from The Eagles to erogenous zones.
Ponting is tired from mixing seven Tests and ten ODIs since October's Super Series, which came three weeks after the four-month Ashes tour. There can be no greater argument for a shortened schedule than when a national captain who has dreamt baggy dreams since childhood prefers a game of golf on his country's national holiday to leading his team in Adelaide. Ponting's rest had apparently been penciled in for weeks; Cricket Australia need to etch a regular week away from games, training and meetings after Sydney's New Year Test. Anything less and the players are swamped by travel days and feel like foreigners in their own homes.
Three days after Ponting's twin centuries against South Africa in his 100th match he was walking out for a Twenty20 international before heading to Melbourne to prepare for the VB Series ribbon cutting. Priorities have been distorted and the players are suffering. Spectators have a right to whinge about not seeing their favourites, but the complaints miss the main problem of Cricket Australia's holiday permission slips devaluing a series that has been as much a part of summer for 27 seasons as burnt beach-barbecue sausages.
It's not the Australian team who are disrespecting the opposition by being "cocky or arrogant" [Arjuna Ranatunga], "tempting fate" [Steve Waugh], or using a "dangerous" tactic [Mark Taylor]. The problem is caused by administrators who schedule a three-team preliminary competition of eight matches each before a best-of-three finals series and then allow their biggest assets to miss games. Modern sport demands consistent quality and while World Cup trialling is a familiar excuse few people want to see Australia's second string playing South Africa and Sri Lanka when they can have Ponting, Gilchrist and McGrath. Small squad changes are inevitable over a long series, but Australia have already used 17 men - a traditional Ashes squad size - in five matches.
Reducing one-day series to a maximum of five matches before a final would ease the constant reshuffling and give one-day internationals a greater sense of value. But like washing up and calls from telemarketers, there is always more and Cricket Australia have apparently agreed to one-day contests of at least seven matches in 2007 and 2009 as they pander to India. Great Test series stay fresh for years and India deserve to be a regular long-form opponent, especially after the last three contests, but the World Cup final is hard enough to remember - Ponting 140*, Martyn 88*, Sehwag 82, McGrath 3-52 - without being cluttered by the TVS, VB and Videocon series.
Summers can cope with a brief international hiatus and it would give Cricket Australia an opportunity to enhance the profile of the domestic game through a televised Twenty20 tournament or a clump of ING Cup fixtures. Australia, West Indies and Pakistan played only six VB Series group games last summer and proved the season could survive with a shorter one-day competition.
The game's greatest assets need heavier protection, but they are unlikely to receive much help because matches mean money-spinning for the boards. Decent rest and peak performance also go hand-in-hand. As world champions Ponting and his players should be rewarded with a few more days of holding their families at home instead of being ground down by a stream of unlimited overs.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo