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Peter English at the WACA
December 15, 2010
The next five days could determine Ricky Ponting's future but the decision over whether he stays as captain is ultimately out of his hands. Australia have to prevent England from winning the third Test in Perth to retain any hope of regaining the Ashes and save Ponting from becoming Australia's first three-time loser of the urn in 120 years.
At a time of so many "what ifs" for the hosts, Ponting is trying not to peer towards the horizon, but that is impossible in his team's current state. He is realistic enough to know that his future could be decided as soon as the end of this match.
"Probably not a decision for me to make," Ponting said when asked if he would still be captain if Australia lost the Ashes. "I don't pick myself as captain so, look, in all honestly, I haven't thought about that at all.
"The decision's completely out of my hands. At the end of the day, I'll do my best to make sure we're on a winning end this week and I'll do my best as a player to make sure I score runs and lead the team the best way possible. Then the powers that be will make those decisions I guess at the end of the series, or after this Test match."
If Ponting was in peak batting form the questions over his future would hold less substance, but he has struggled to 70 runs in this series and has not had an impact on the campaign. Ponting is both the game's most successful captain, with 47 wins in 75 matches, and the ruler of a unit that has lost most of its powers with the departure of key personnel over the past four years.
Three new faces have come into the squad for this game and Ponting is in a situation where he can't trust his bowling attack or rely on his batsmen for big runs. He remains the only great player in Australia's side, but he will be 36 on Monday and is in a battle to hang on.
There have been no hundreds in his last eight Tests and he will walk out at the WACA with the memories of receiving a tenderised left elbow from a Kemar Roach short ball in the game here last year. That bruise forced his first retired hurt and he has been struggling for sustained form and fluency ever since.
After the innings defeat in Adelaide, Ponting had five days off and tried not to think about the series. Compartmentalisation is a key attribute for any leader, but there would be no way Ponting could have escaped from all the disruptions and criticism of himself and his team. He remains relaxed in public but is a man under extreme pressure.
"I know a lot of our success revolves around how well our batting does at the top of the order and my input in the series so far hasn't been what it's needed to be for us to win games," he said. "So purely and simply I need to stand up, I need to score runs and we need to play better cricket than we have in the last two Test matches."
Australia last lost a home Ashes series in the depressing summer of 1986-87 and this campaign is already evoking similar feelings among the home supporters. The bowlers have taken only 16 wickets in the opening two matches and England's batsmen have dominated in gaining a 1-0 series advantage. One thing in Australia's favour is that the green WACA pitch is looking like providing a result.
"Obviously that has to be a positive one for us or it's game, set and match," he said. "We are priming ourselves to play our best game so far in the series and we know we have to do it by a long way if we want to win the game."
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