Nerves bring out the best in players - Ponting
Ricky Ponting believes the added pressure of a 17-man squad will be good for some of his side's most besieged members. The extended unit means out-of-form players such as Michael Hussey, Marcus North and Nathan Hauritz will be looking over their shoulder during the round of Sheffield Shield and Australia A games from Wednesday.
"It's a different feel," Ponting said on Fox Sports after the squad was named. "Unfortunately that's what we've got, there's nothing we can do about it. For some reason, Cricket Australia wanted to name the squad as early as they have today. We've just got to get on with it now.
"There's a bit of extra pressure on a few of the guys around at the moment. I'm sure there'll be a few guys who will have lots of different things going through their heads, but there's nothing wrong with a bit of added pressure and a few nerves. I think generally that brings out the best in guys."
While Hussey and North are the most vulnerable members of the batting group, the offspinner Hauritz is another player who needs a strong performance for his state this week. He has struggled for impact over the past month, first with a return of six wickets at 65 in the Test series in India, and then with disappointing match figures of 3 for 141 for New South Wales last week against Victoria.
In an unexpected move, the selectors chose the Tasmanian left-armer Xavier Doherty alongside Hauritz and Steven Smith, and it appears certain one of the trio will play, despite the Gabba's seam-friendly reputation. That makes the Sheffield Shield clash between New South Wales and Tasmania, starting in Sydney on Wednesday, vital for Hauritz and Doherty, while Smith will play for Australia A against England.
"I'm pretty sure we'll go in with one of those guys as our specialist spinner in Brisbane," Ponting said. "It's always my preference to have a specialist spinner in the side. It's a bit of a showdown this week."
Although it seems baffling that Doherty, who has played only nine first-class matches in the past four years, could be in line for a Test call-up, his selection and Hauritz's worrying form makes it a possibility. The batsmen Callum Ferguson and Usman Khawaja would also seem hard-pressed to force Hussey or North out for the first Test, but Ponting said every one of those chosen had a genuine chance of playing at the Gabba.
"They wouldn't be named in the squad otherwise," he said. "That's as simple as it gets. Everyone that's been named in that squad of 17 is a very realistic chance of playing in Brisbane. With a full round of Shield games this week, and the A game, I'm sure the selectors will want to see the guys do well. I'm really excited about the Sheffield Shield game that I've got against New South Wales. I'll get a very close look at Bollinger and Hauritz, and Doherty in our side as well."
Even if there are no surprises in the Gabba side, the selectors have at least shown who will be next in line should any of the established men falter. And if Australia's series doesn't begin with a victory, don't expect a repeat of 2006-07, when their Ashes campaign was completed with only 12 men.