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April 22, 2012
Michael Clarke, Australia's captain, has all but guaranteed Ricky Ponting his place in the team's next Test assignment, at home against South Africa in November. Ponting has looked in good touch in the Caribbean despite not making many runs and Clarke, who is also a selector, indicated Ponting's place would be safe for the first Test of the home summer, more than six months away.
Having staved off a run of slim scores in Sri Lanka and South Africa before enjoying a storming series at home against India, Ponting joined the majority of his fellow batsmen in struggling to make a major score in the West Indies. Only one century was made in two Tests, by Shivnarine Chanderpaul in Barbados, and Clarke said Ponting was arguably the man most likely to make one should the Dominica pitch offer a little more encouragement to stroke play.
"He's hitting the ball well, probably hasn't got that big score that he'd like but none of us have. Conditions haven't been great for making big hundreds," Clarke said of Ponting. "If you wanted to make runs here you had to bat for a hell of a long time, and need a bit of luck as well along the way. Ricky's one of the guys that has put the team above himself and sacrificed his wicket or tried to take the game forward because we've needed to, to try and help us win the game.
"If he continues to play the way he's played throughout the last 12 months, he had a wonderful summer, then I see no reason he won't be in the team come the first Test against South Africa. There's a lot of cricket to be played from now until then. Ricky's not currently in our one-day squad but we also have some first-class cricket leading up to that first Test so I'm confident Ricky's batting well and he's not far away from a big score. If we get a decent wicket here I wouldn't be surprised if he finished the summer on a very high note."
For his part, Ponting has no thoughts of the finish line, proving it by staying on at Windsor Park for throw-downs from the assistant coach Justin Langer after the rest of the squad had returned to the hotel. "Not yet no, one more game here," he said when asked about retirement thoughts. "We'll wait and see how many I get this week, if I get 200 this week you probably won't be asking me that question."
Seven months and 13 Tests since he led Australia onto the field in Sri Lanka, Clarke called for one final push from his men to ensure the series against West Indies was won. He also pointed to the fact that so many of his men will be going direct from the Caribbean to the IPL as a reminder that fatigue should not be a problem as they play at Roseau's Windsor Park for the first time.
For the first time, Clarke will be joining them, having signed with Sourav Ganguly's Pune. The IPL will reduce the break available for those playing both Test and limited-overs cricket, before the Australians start travelling again on a 20-month odyssey that will take them to England and India twice each, either side of home Tests against South Africa and Sri Lanka, and rounded off by a home Ashes series in 2013-14.
"I think the closer you get to the finish line the more excited you actually get. We know we've got no Test cricket now until the Australian summer after this last Test," Clarke said. "I'm pretty sure all the boys will want to make this Test a good one for themselves personally and for the team because we've had a really good summer, we want to finish on a high before we get stuck into one-day cricket and the Twenty20 World Cup before Test cricket comes around.
"And guys can't be too fatigued. 95% of the blokes are going to the IPL, so we have no excuse not to come out and play our best cricket once again in this Test match and finish what has been a very good summer of Test cricket on a high. I think we've done really well in these conditions. We've pushed hard to get results, it could have quite easily been two draws but I think our attitude has helped us win the first Test and we thought we're going to win the second Test.
"A lot of the guys hadn't seen the West Indies conditions as well so it's been a good eye opener for the guys who haven't played Test cricket over here. Your No. 1 goal is to win every series you play, there's no doubt about that, that's what we plan to do in this third Test. In saying that we're trying to win every Test as well."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala