Ricky Ponting has endorsed Michael Clarke to succeed him as Australia's Twenty20 captain. Despite the strong cases presented by Cameron White and Brad Haddin to assume the 20-over captaincy, Ponting insisted his current vice-captain deserved the promotion and the opportunity to turn around Australia's fortunes in what is their weakest format.
Ponting announced his retirement from Twenty20 international cricket in the aftermath of Australia's Ashes defeat. An announcement on his successor will be made at the conclusion of Cricket Australia's board meeting next month but Ponting's public backing will be difficult to ignore.
Australia's selectors revealed their intended succession plan two years ago when they installed Clarke as Ponting's deputy in all three forms of the game. Clarke has excelled with the bat in the Test arena ever since but his declining strike-rate in the limited-overs formats has prompted questions over whether he is the man to lead the Twenty20 side.
White will presumably come under consideration, having led Victoria to all four finals of Australia's domestic Big Bash tournament, while Haddin has twice captained the Australian 20-over side this year. Ponting, though, was adamant Clarke follow him into the leadership role and seek to restore confidence to the side ahead of the World Twenty20 tournament in the Caribbean next year.
"Michael has done a terrific job in my absence, be it in Twenty20 or 50-over cricket," Ponting said. "He's continued to grow as a player and a leader. I know Cricket Australia said at my announcement they would wait until later in the year before they name the captain but Michael's done everything right and deserves the first crack at it."
Ponting reiterated his belief that standing down from Twenty20 internationals would enhance his prospects of playing through to the 2011 World Cup and the 2013 Ashes. Should he achieve the latter goal, Ponting would join a select group of Australian players to have completed five Ashes tours.
"Not playing the World Twenty20 was the hardest thing to do; retiring knowing that was just around the corner and is such a big event," he said. "It wasn't that I wanted to get out of that tournament.
"[Retirement from Twenty20 internationals] is hopefully going to give me a better opportunity to be able to [play the 2013 Ashes series] and come back here. It was about me wanting to play at the level I feel I can play at in 50-over cricket and Test cricket. With 20-over international cricket there at the moment it was just making it harder to be physically fit and mentally sharp for every game that I was playing."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo