Ponting backtracks over Ashes SOS

For a few, brief hours, Ashes nostalgia got the better of Ricky Ponting as he indicated that he would be prepared to answer an SOS call from Michael Clarke and help out Australia in the Ashes.

"You wouldn't say no, would you, if that call came and I would never say never," Ponting told the Daily Mail when asked if he would consider an Ashes comeback. "But you have to say a call-up like that now is extremely unlikely."

But never again the twain shall meet, unless it's for a beer as Michael Clarke's men tour the country. A Ponting return would have been akin to a desperate England sending for a 41-year-old Colin Cowdrey midway through the 1974-75 Ashes. In other words, it sounded from the outset as likely as David Warner hiring Robert Craddock to write his biography.

A good night's sleep later, Ponting reconfirmed his international retirement. He had never seriously intended to suggest he was fingering his mobile, awaiting a call. One of cricket's toughest performers was just indulging in a flight of fancy.

"I did an interview with the Mail yesterday and probably didn't answer this question exactly the way I would have liked," he told Sky Sports. "I'm a happily retired international cricketer. There'll be a squad of 17, 18 players and there'll be reserve batsmen on standby, ready to go if anyone in the starting XI loses a bit of form.

"I won't be playing Ashes cricket this time, there's no doubt about that. I'm pleased everyone out there thinks that there's still an opportunity, that I might be good enough to play, but I'm happily retired and it's time for the young guys now to make the most of their opportunities."

To date, Michael Vaughan, his opposite number as England captain in 2005, has been able to keep his excitement in check. Clarke, too, presented a straight bat when asked about a possibly Ponting return at his Champions Trophy press conference in Cardiff on Wednesday.

"You should never say never in life, that's for sure, but I think Ricky also made it very clear that his time had finished at international level," Clarke said. "He's retired from the Australian cricket team. I hear he's very focused and excited about being a part of the Surrey team. Right now we have a 15-man Champions Trophy squad, and then we'll have a 16-man Ashes squad. Ricky is not selected in either of those squads at this stage."

Ponting will be in England for a county stint with Surrey in June and July and it could make for an interesting sideshow if he continues the first-class form that he showed for Tasmania after his Test retirement - he topped the Sheffield Shield run tally with 911 at 75.91. Australia's batsmen struggled in India in February and March on their first Test tour since the departures of Ponting and Michael Hussey and several top-order men will enter the Ashes under pressure.

There is no question that Ponting's decision to play on after giving up the captaincy was made with this Ashes tour in mind. But by the end of the home series against South Africa late last year, when he was embarrassed at his output of 32 runs in five innings, he knew that the time had come to retire, or risk a tap on the shoulder from the selectors.

"I felt Australia would have been a stronger side in this Ashes with both me and Mike Hussey in the side," Ponting said. "The Ashes are the pinnacle and England is the greatest tour to be on. But the bottom line is I just wasn't good enough any more to be a part of this team. I knew that.

"Hussey is missing because of different circumstances and I'm surprised he's not here but I know how hard it can be to keep on touring with a young family. As for me, my time had just come. I knew it so I had to bow out against South Africa. It's down to the young lads now."

While they're all young lads to Ponting, some members of Australia's squad are not so youthful by international cricket standards: the selectors hope that the recall of the 35-year-olds Chris Rogers and Brad Haddin will add some experience and stability to the side. Much will depend on the form of Clarke, but Ponting believes the series could be closer than many people expect and he said the output of the other batsmen like Warner, Ed Cowan, Phillip Hughes and Shane Watson would be critical.

"I think it's going to be a lot tighter than a lot of people have been saying," he said. "There has been a lot of doom and gloom and negativity about our side but not too long ago we were all being pretty positive about where we stood. Our batting is the key. If it can stand up to the English bowling then we will be competitive. We have a good, solid number of bowlers and our young quicks are really exciting as a fast-bowling group.

"England are a very good side, and they played exceptionally well against us in Australia last time. I must admit Alastair Cook surprised me in that series but I see he's just got his 25th Test century and he's proving a worthy successor as captain to Andrew Strauss. Joe Root looks a good young player, Jonny Bairstow has something about him and when Kevin Pietersen is fit England will be getting a world-class player again. They are a quality side - but quality sides have been beaten in the past."

Another important factor for the Australians will be their preparation and off-field efforts, which slipped so significantly on the Indian tour that Clarke, coach Mickey Arthur and team manager Gavin Dovey suspended four players for not completed a so-called "homework task". Ponting said he was uncertain how he would have dealt with such issues if he had still been in charge.

"I can understand what the captain and coach were trying to achieve but I'm not sure I totally agree with what happened," he said. "I don't know for sure how I would have handled that situation but those type of things didn't happen when I was captain."