On a roll: Nathan Lyon on his way to claiming 3-80. Photo: Getty Images
Ricky Ponting has backed the call for selectors to have patience with Australia's emerging crop of batsmen rather than toss them out after the Ashes series defeat in England.
The former Test captain has been watching from afar since linking up with the Antigua Hawksbills in the inaugural Caribbean Premier League and believes younger players such as Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith and Phillip Hughes must be given time to adapt to the Test stage.
Only Michael Clarke and Chris Rogers are averaging more than 30 for the series and questions about the status of the top six further intensified after the batting collapse that surrendered the fourth Test to England in Durham.
Give them time: Steve Smith. Photo: Getty Images
Australian coach Darren Lehmann said in the wake of that defeat that there would be batsmen playing for their careers in the fifth Test at the Oval starting on Wednesday.
However, Ponting urged selectors not to cast their emerging talent aside just yet, using England as an example.
"The thing that I keep referring to is that if you take England back six or seven years when they had [Ian] Bell just starting out, [Alastair] Cook just starting out, those guys weren't overnight successes," he said.
"It's taken them that amount of time in the game to really hit their straps as international players. That's something that we have to do with our guys. We've got to identify the best players we have, give them an opportunity and stick with them, even if we are losing games.
"If they're the best players we've got, then they've got to learn and grow some confidence . . . not be in and out of the team all the time. That's our big challenge.
"A few of the guys are young players trying to find their way in the most pressurised series that there is in international cricket. It's as simple as that. Hughes, Khawaja, even Steve Smith, although he's played reasonably well at different times . . . Rogers has played well, Watto [Shane Watson] probably hasn't been able to perform as consistently as he would have liked in this series."
Ponting believes Australia can challenge strongly for the Ashes in the return series this summer, but only if the batsmen lift their game.
At stumps on day one of Australia's tour match against the England Lions in Northampton, the hosts were 7-269 after 77 overs, with 83 overs available for the innings. Gary Ballance starred for the home side with 104.
Losing the toss and bowling was hardly the ideal result for an Australian side in desperate need of batting practice and with rain a chance on day two.
However, Nathan Lyon made the most out of seven of the top eight Lions' batsmen being left-handers.
Lyon has troubled England captain Alastair Cook during the Ashes and again cashed in, taking 3-80 from 25 overs, all caught by captain Shane Watson at first slip.
But it could have been more. The unlucky Lyon had three catches dropped off his bowling, including a sitter by Watson.
In contrast, Steve Smith bowled two full tosses for two wickets, including the prized scalp of Ballance – the ball after he'd smashed a six to bring up a ton.
"I'm feeling really good at the moment," he said. "[After Durham], to back it up here was pretty important for me as well."