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Ponting zeroes in on keeper debate

Former captain Ricky Ponting weighs in on Australia's most hotly debated Ashes position

While expressing sympathy for the circumstances that have his fellow Tasmanian Matthew Wade in danger of losing his Test place, Ricky Ponting believes that former gloveman Peter Nevill is the "obvious" choice to step in.


Australia's selectors indicated that the keeper's position for the Magellan Ashes Series that starts in Brisbane later this month is up for grabs, with performances in the three rounds of the JLT Sheffield Shield prior to the first Test to play a significant part in informing that decision.

No outstanding candidate has emerged from the first two rounds, with greater focus on the contenders' batting returns than the competency of their glovework and Western Australia's occasional keeper Cameron Bancroft - who followed up twin half-centuries last week with a hundred on Monday - the only player to pass 50 in his sole appearance as custodian.

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Ponting believes that Wade, the incumbent keeper since Nevill was dumped in a radical revamp of the Test line-up after successive defeats to South Africa a year ago, has suffered through playing a bulk of his international cricket (Tests and ODIs) on the subcontinent since his recall.

In nine first-class matches since the end of last summer's home Test series against Pakistan, Wade has averaged 22.57 with two half-centuries, while Nevill has averaged 64 with two centuries and a 50 for New South Wales over the same period.

Ponting presents Wade his Baggy Green in 2012 // Getty
Ponting presents Wade his Baggy Green in 2012 // Getty

If Wade is unable to post the meaningful score that could shore up his place during the upcoming round of Shield matches this week, then Ponting claims that Nevill is the only realistic alternative despite the cases put forward by other keeper-batsmen and their supporters.

"I reckon I've heard every wicketkeeper in Australia's name mentioned in the last couple of weeks," Ponting told cricket.com.au in an exclusive interview.

"If they do make a change, I would feel a bit for Matty Wade, (given) the games that he's played have all been in the subcontinent leading up to (the domestic summer in) Australia.

"It's a hard place to bat for anyone over there.

"But they made it clear at the start of this Sheffield Shield season that these spots were up for grabs, and so far not many guys have put their hand up and said 'I'm the man you've got to pick'.

"Nevill is the obvious one to go back to.

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"He makes very few mistakes with the gloves, a good consistent character, a good guy to have around your side, works his backside off with the bat, he's very hard to get out and when he bats for New South Wales he makes big scores.

"So for me he's the obvious one.

"I've heard Bancroft's name mentioned the last few weeks, he has a chance to be the number six batter or the number seven batsman/wicketkeeper.

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"(South Australian) Alex Carey's name has been thrown around as well (but) I'm not sure he's quite ready for it yet just looking at how his batting numbers stack up in first-class cricket."

In addition to his diminishing return with the bat – an average of 13.42 in his eight Test innings before he was dropped – Nevill was also deemed to maintain a less voluble presence on the field as captain Steve Smith looked to harden the team's edge after the South Africa series loss.

Wade is renowned as a combative character who is rarely short of a word to teammates and opponents alike, and Smith recently confirmed that on-field presence was one of the criteria applied to finding the best keeping candidate for his Test outfit.

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"It's also what they bring to the team and the energy they provide out in the middle to ensure they're driving the other players around the group," Smith said prior to the start of the Australia summer.

But Ponting argues that the lack of overt verbal presence should not act as a selection barrier, and it would be unwise and unfair to compel a player to change their on-field persona when the role of antagonist could be taken on by someone other than the wicketkeeper.

In the case of the current Australian Test outfit, he identified vice-captain David Warner who last month controversially likened Ashes cricket to a battlefield and foreshadowed the verbal exchanges would begin on day one of the first Test that starts at the Gabba on November 23.

"If it's not natural for someone, you don't want to force it on them," Ponting said of the suggestion that the Test keeper also needs to be the team's on-field mouthpiece.

"Nevill's not going to do it; Wadey will do it.

"I'm sure Davey (Warner) will be able to pick up a bit of the slack if the wicketkeeper goes quiet.

"It's more about attitude, it's needing to stand up in the moment when it's your turn. That's what Ashes cricket is all about.

"When it's your turn to go out and bat, you've got to stand up, puff your chest out and know that it's you and no-one else.

"Don't leave it to anybody else. It's no different with the wicketkeeper."

2017-18 International Fixtures

Magellan Ashes Series

First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets

Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets

Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets

Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets

Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets

ODI Series v England

First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets

Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets

Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets

Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets

Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF

Prime Minister's XI

PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets

T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series

First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets

Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets

Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets

Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14

Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16

Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18

Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21