Australia enters its two Test match series against New Zealand this week with a raft of injury concerns, and it must be tempting for the new selectors to try and keep some degree of stability in the side over the Australian summer.
With five players ruled out through injury from this Thursday’s Test match, suddenly former captain Ricky Ponting’s ongoing form issues seem the least of their concerns.
A week is a long time in cricket.
Before the start of the Johannesburg Test, Ponting’s head was on the chopping block, but his half century in that Test and the injuries to Australian players have meant that talk of Ponting’s career coming to a close has abated for the moment.
While Ponting may have a temporary stay of execution, the issue of his ongoing position in the side does not disappear by mere distraction alone.
For over a decade Ricky Ponting was the rock of the Australian middle order. The sight of Ponting striding to the crease at first drop lowered the mood of opposition fielding sides the world over, such was his ability to carve up bowling attacks and his appetite for big scores.
It was a fairly simple equation – Ponting equalled runs.
However Ponting is not the player he was at his peak. He has not scored a Test century for close to two years and next month he will turn 37. In a side which is in a state of flux both on and off the field, it is becoming more difficult to mount a strong case to keep Ponting in the Australian side.
When discussion turns to whether the former captain should remain in the team, it is curious to note that those in favour of keeping Ponting in the side offer reasons which have nothing to do with his batting output.
It is suggested that Ponting offers stability to a changing team, he can provide sound counsel to captain Michael Clarke, and is able to pass on his cricketing wisdom to the next generation of Australian players.
It is said that Ponting’s influence cannot be measured in runs alone, and this may be true, but it is troubling that the word ‘runs’ is no longer in the first several reasons offered for keeping him in the side.
Surely the scoring of runs, and loads of them, is the first and most important criteria when selecting a middle order batsman.
There is no doubt that Ponting does have a great deal of experience to offer the next generation of players, but this alone should not be enough for him to retain his position in the side.
If Ponting wants to help the next generation of Australian players, and convey to them what the fabled baggy green means to him, then he be better off taking up a coaching role rather than retaining the number four batting slot as Minister for Stability and Team Spirit.
Much is made of Sachin Tendulkar’s form in the past few years, and the late career resurgence of the Indian batsman is offered as a reason to retain Ponting in the Australian side, in the belief that Ponting too will rediscover his best cricket.
However, this suggestion overlooks the fact that while Tendulkar and Ponting were both highly effective batsmen at their peaks, they are not one and the same.
Ponting’s quest to continue his Test career should be judged on its own merit, without reference to Tendulkar’s rich vein of form in his late thirties.
Ponting shepherded the side through the difficult period that came with the retirement of stars Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist. Under new captain Michael Clarke the dynamics of the side have changed.
The current Test side is a collection of old-timers, up-and-comers and those clinging for dear life to their spot in the team.
In any event, there are enough wise heads in the current team to steer the Australian side through the next few years without Ponting. Captain Michael Clarke has an excellent understanding of the game, and is showing himself to be a very capable leader. The experienced Michael Hussey and Shane Watson also have much guidance to offer those new to the side.
The Second Test match against New Zealand in Ponting’s home state of Tasmania could provide a suitable send-off.
This will allow Michael Clarke and his team to start afresh for the four Test series against India starting on Boxing Day without Ponting’s position in the side continuing to provide distraction to a team yet to settle on its best eleven.
Ricky Ponting has been a fantastic servant of Australian cricket, and in his prime there was no better batsman in world cricket. All things must come to an end though, and the Bellerive Test match would provide a fitting end to a remarkable career.
Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelFilosi