Ponting considers a move down the order
Ricky Ponting was asked before the Ashes series started to consider moving from No.3, but only in the past fortnight has he considered shifting from his home of nine years. Greg Chappell, the new Australia selector, raised the possibility of Ponting dropping to No.4 for the opening Test and after rejecting the idea he has managed just 113 runs in eight innings.
His failures were a key factor in England retaining the urn, with the tourists' innings-and-157-run victory at the MCG earning a 2-1 lead. Ponting, 36, has now loosened his strict stance on staying at first-drop.
"I guess there's been a few doubts creep into my mind the last couple of weeks," Ponting said. "I'm not going to hide that. I think I definitely have to re-evaluate where I'm at as far as a Test batsman is concerned."
The idea was first discussed after Ponting returned from India and New South Wales' Usman Khawaja was in impressive form, but since then the country's next generation of top-order batsmen have struggled to gain consistency. When asked by ESPNcricinfo about Chappell's suggestion Ponting said: "[Chappell] mentioned something briefly about the possibility of me batting No.4 for the Brisbane Test match, with someone else coming into the squad to bat at three. That's about as far as the conversation went, we had probably two minutes talking."
Ponting's stubbornness is both a strength and a weakness and in hindsight a move to safer ground was just what he needed. England have targeted him successfully, taking Australia's only world-class player out of the contest with a mixture of perfect planning, excellent catching and some luck.
Australia will name their squad for the Sydney Test on Thursday and if Ponting is open to an immediate shift Khawaja is the most likely contender for his spot. Ponting said if the selectors wanted to make a change the new man had to be ready for the extra responsibility.
"It's not an easy place to bat, we all know that," he said. "It's something I think [the selectors will] be talking long and hard about this afternoon and for any selections going forward."
Ponting has been impressed by Khawaja, who was on standby for him in this match and was part of the squad in Brisbane. "I've been very impressed with what he's been able to do," he said. "His first-class record is very, very good. Technically, he looks as good as any of the young blokes we've got around Australia, probably better. You need to have that really solid technique if you want to stand up at No.3 at Test level."
A broken left pinky suffered in the field in Perth has also hampered Ponting, who had more x-rays in Melbourne this morning before returning to watch the final stages of the defeat. He was planning to see a specialist in the afternoon and thinks he will be able to play in Sydney.
"[The doctor] has to go through the x-rays with me and he needs to look at the finger and see what movement and mobility I've got around the joint," he said. "The next part of the plan will be to consult our medical staff overnight and find out what I'm going to be like for Sydney."
Ponting was promoted full-time to No.3 in 2001 and it was from that position that he became one of the game's true batting greats. He has 9719 runs at 58.19 in 108 Tests at first-drop, but his powers have waned noticeably in this series with his increasingly fidgety and jumpy movements. He fell for 10 and 20 at the MCG and his only significant contribution of the series came with an unbeaten half-century when the opening Test was winding down.
He isn't sure why he is having so many problems after getting himself into his best physical shape for almost a decade. "I wish I knew," he said. "I feel like I have been well prepared for every game. I have trained the same for every game.
"I am more disappointed that I came off what I thought was a pretty good series in India [in October]. I actually thought that after a few leaner months before that series in India I was starting to get things on track again, feeling good about my game."
He is now hoping, rather than expecting, that his fortune will change.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo