Ponting confident of playing on Boxing Day
Ricky Ponting rates himself "a good chance" to play with his broken little finger on Boxing Day, but won't be too proud to stand down if he's not fit. Ponting has learned from last year, when he went into the biggest game of the summer with a serious elbow tendon problem, and expects to wait until the morning of the fourth Test to decide whether he can lead.
The injury ensures another bumpy lead-up for Australia and means Michael Clarke will be on standby for his first Test as captain. Greg Chappell, the selector, said yesterday Clarke, the current deputy, was not ready for the top job but changed tack today.
Ponting, who will not pick up a bat until later in the week, did not field on the final morning as Australia raced to a 267-run victory that levelled the series at 1-1. "I have to have treatment and look after it for a few days and rest it," he said. "I think I have a really good chance of playing, it is only a small fracture. It is a bit sore and angry at the moment, but I'll be right."
He suffered the break when he spilled the edge of Jonathan Trott at second slip on the third afternoon, with the rebound popping up to Brad Haddin. X-rays last night showed a small crack and he spent the morning of his 36th birthday in the dressing room to protect the injury. He walked out after the victory had been secured to congratulate his team-mates while keeping his left hand out of everyone's way.
Ponting was in a similar fitness race this time last year as he battled to be ready for the start of the series against Pakistan. His right elbow had been hit by a Kemar Roach short ball at the WACA, and the problem disrupted his batting for the rest of the summer.
He was determined to play on despite the discomfort, but this time he will consider a different approach if the injury hasn't healed. "I honestly think with it being a little finger on my left hand, I don't think it's as significant as being the top elbow last year," he said
"I'm not going to be silly and put myself ahead of the team. If I don't think I can function well, I won't play. If I feel like I can function and play somewhere near - I won't say how I've been playing, better than I have been playing - then I will play the game."
Ponting not only has a hurt finger, but he also hasn't been in form with the bat, scoring 83 runs in six innings in this series, and averaging 38.95 in 24 Tests since the start of last year. The lack of output has resulted in increased pressure on his leadership, although that has eased with the strength of this victory.
Clarke, 29, has also struggled for runs and been facing scrutiny as the captain in waiting. Chappell attempted to back-track today after telling Channel 9 yesterday that nobody was in the right frame of mind to step into the captaincy. The comments came before Ponting was hurt.
"In that discussion I was being very careful not to make suggestions against Ricky and I didn't speak clearly to get that message across," Chappell told the ABC. "Michael is our next captain, whenever that might be. We're very happy, he's done the job before, and we have no doubt he's ready for it.
"What I was trying to say was that when the handover comes we'd love him to be in peak form. I'm not trying to suggest there was a problem there."
Yesterday Chappell said: "If we're going to replace Ricky, we've got to make sure we've got someone that we're confident has the right frame of mind who can take over and do a good job," Chappell said. "And I don't know that we've got somebody that we feel we want to rush Ricky Ponting out the door at this moment. There is nobody absolutely ready for it. I don't think there are too many other players I'd want to put that pressure on."
Chappell said today that Ponting will be given time to turn around his batting form, just like Michael Hussey was at the start of this series. "In the nets he's batting well," Chappell said. "Perhaps the pressure of this series, he built it up as a very important series, perhaps he hasn't had the mental freedom to bat. Hopefully the win here might give him the freedom in Melbourne."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo