Perth place not in doubt but Ponting is on notice
"At the moment Ricky Ponting has the unanimous backing of the selection panel" ... Australian coach Mickey Arthur. Photo: Getty Images
AUSTRALIA coach Mickey Arthur says selectors have had no conversation ''whatsoever'' about Ricky Ponting's immediate future but the veteran has been put on notice that he needs runs in Perth or he may not survive beyond next week.
Ponting, who turns 38 next month, has had scores of 0, 4 and 16 in three innings against South Africa and the mode of his dismissals in the drawn second Test in Adelaide leaves him on the brink of being either asked to walk, or dropped.
''At the moment Ricky Ponting has the unanimous backing of the selection panel,'' Arthur said. ''We're hoping, we back Ricky, we unanimously back Ricky Ponting to get us some runs. By his own admission Perth is a big Test for him and that's by his own admission. But Ricky's prepared brilliantly, he's really given us everything we can possibly ask for, he'll leave no stone unturned in his preparation going into Perth and I'm backing him for a big score in Perth, no doubt about that.''
Running out of chances … Ponting is bowled by Dale Steyn. Photo: Getty Images
There was unfortunate symbolism in Ponting's first-innings exit in Adelaide, beaten comprehensively by a deadly ball from Jacques Kallis and losing his balance, and footing, in the process. If that was age catching up with him, his chopping of Dale Steyn into his stumps on Saturday was simply a poor shot.
There has been speculation that the ex-captain could, with the nudging of selectors, choose to retire and play his final Test, against Sri Lanka, in his home state of Tasmania next month. By playing there Ponting would pass Steve Waugh's record of 168 Test matches, making him the most-capped Australian cricketer of all time.
The increasing reality is that Ponting needs a score of some significance in the deciding third Test against the Proteas, starting on Friday, or even that could be his last.
Arthur said the selection panel - chaired by John Inverarity and comprising the coach, captain Michael Clarke, as well as Rod Marsh and Andy Bichel - wanted Ponting to continue on to next year's Ashes tour.
However, as Ponting himself even conceded in Adelaide, they will be forced into action should he not be able to rediscover his run-scoring prowess. Australia do not want to be trialling his replacement as late as the four-Test tour of India in February and March or, worse, in England.
If Phillip Hughes or Usman Khawaja or another is to be anointed as his successor in the top order, the series against Sri Lanka at home would be as good a time as any to do so. Of course, the subject will be off the table should Ponting manage a big score in Perth, and that is exactly what Arthur is hoping he can do.
''All I know is inside that dressing room and privately we've all backed Ricky Ponting,'' the coach said.
Arthur also said there was life left in Rob Quiney's aborted Test career, after he was left out of Australia's 14-man squad for Perth following a pair in his second match in Adelaide. The 30-year-old Victorian makes way for Shane Watson in the third Test, and with Hughes and Khawaja lobbying for recalls with top Sheffield Shield form Quiney's chance looks to have come and gone.
Arthur said: ''Rob Quiney's Test career is definitely not over. Rob Quiney knocked the door down and got selected on the form he showed throughout our local domestic competition and that's the way we as a panel always want to go.
''At this stage Quiney is right up there and I guess you can't look past Phillip Hughes, and Usman Khawaja is making a really good case … as well. We've got some young players there that have a taste now of international cricket and when called up or when needed ready to step into the breach.
''The message to [Quiney] is keep knocking the door down because you never know what's around the corner and if he keeps his name up in lights he'll certainly get another crack at some stage.''