Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 4th day December 29, 2010

Ponting fights for his captaincy

Ricky Ponting knows his case to hold on to the captaincy is not strong, but he is desperate to retain the job and lift Australia from their lowest period since the mid-1980s. Ponting lost the Ashes away in 2005 and 2009 and he has become the country's first leader since Allan Border in 1986-87 not to hold the urn at home.

England celebrated as Ashes winners with their innings victory at the MCG and while the series can still be drawn in Sydney next week, the reality is Australia have lost. Ponting is no certainty to hold on to the leadership after being unable to inspire his team-mates with his batting or captaincy.

"The fact that I've lost those three series is disappointing for me," he said, slightly prematurely. "Hopefully I'm not only remembered as that guy, the guy that lost three Ashes series. There's lots of other great things I've been lucky to be able to be part of as a player throughout my career. This result is not one of my proudest."

Ponting is second on Test cricket's run list with 12,362, but he has added only 113 in eight bats in this series, which is more concerning given the damaged state of his side. Australia's squad for the fifth Test will be named on Thursday and the selectors could point to Ponting's broken left pinky if they want to ease him out. Ponting thinks he will be able to play but understands the situation might be taken out of his bruised hands.

"It's out of my control, I can't think too much about it," he said. "I've tried my hardest over the last couple of weeks to try to play well and try to lead the team as well as possible. I've felt I've led the team as well as I can. I haven't performed the way I wanted to perform, but I certainly haven't done it without trying, that's for sure."

It seems the only way Ponting will be dethroned is if the selectors force him out, either publicly or privately, and if they do it now they risk upsetting him before his defence of the World Cup starting in February. Ponting has never lost a World Cup game as captain and Australia are pushing for a fourth consecutive success at the tournament.

"Whatever decision I make, it's really important it's for the betterment of Australian cricket," he said. "I want to keep playing, I would love to keep leading the team. I still think I've got a lot to offer in both those regards."

Ponting took over from Steve Waugh in 2004 and since then has developed an excellent record of 48 wins in 77 games, but over the past two years the change of personnel has resulted in the side falling to fifth in the world. However, the number of his team is not as painful as another below-par Ashes campaign.

"I probably haven't got much of a case at the moment," he said of hanging on to the captaincy. "I've got a lot of knowledge on the game, the fact that I've played 150 Tests and won 99 Test matches.

"I've captained a lot of winning teams. There is no doubt that the experiences I have in the game will hold me in good stead. I feel I am well equipped to bring on some young guys and we have got a few of them in the side now."

The resume is impressive but time is moving fast for Ponting, who is now 36, and the selectors must decide whether he is worth holding on to. Not having a ready-made replacement is one major issue, with Michael Clarke struggling with the bat and at times behaving like someone who doesn't want the extra responsibility. Clarke is 29, enjoys an A-list lifestyle, and has a heavy influence over Phillip Hughes and Steven Smith, his young New South Wales team-mates.

While there is currently strong public sentiment against Clarke and Ponting, the incumbent said he has received encouragement from the majority of people he has run into recently. "I've received great support in the last few weeks," he said. "I've had other international players in the last couple of mornings send messages through to me about different things."

But there are growing elements of despair in the masses and Ponting does care what the public thinks. "Yeah of course, we all do," he said. "But quite often there's a perception out there which sometimes you can't change. No matter what you do and how well you do things, sometimes you can't change things.

"I'm trying to do the right thing by my team and by Australian cricket. I think that right through my career I've been able to do that most of the time. I haven't been able to do it in the last few weeks and for that I'm bitterly disappointed and so is the rest of my group. We will soldier on."

Australia lasted for only 83 minutes on the fourth morning and with Ryan Harris not batting due to his stress fracture, the end came when Ben Hilfenhaus edged Tim Bresnan behind. The mood of the hosts has swung dramatically over the past week with a huge high in Perth and now another low to match the one of the other innings defeat in Adelaide.

"We weren't doing handstands," Ponting said of the post-match mood in the dressing room. "Only last week we were on top of the world. We didn't do anything different this week than we did last week, we just haven't played well."

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo