Ponting picks uncapped batter to start home summer
Former Test skipper casts his eye over Australia’s batting line-up for the home Test summer, calls for Will Pucovski to be handed a debut
Sam Ferris at Old Trafford
15 September 2019, 10:39 AM AEST
Former captain Ricky Ponting says only three Australia batters are certainties for the start of the home summer as the tourists stare down the barrel of a monumental run chase following a "sloppy" performance in the fifth Test.
Ponting says Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne and David Warner, despite having a historically poor Ashes series, are the only locks for the first Test at the Gabba against Pakistan, starting November 12.
Smith (125.16) and Labuschagne (56.50) are the only Australian batters to average more than 28 in this Ashes series, and given the disappointing returns of the middle order, Ponting would like to see young Victorian batter Will Pucovski handed an opportunity on home soil.
"Warner's going to be a lock," Ponting told cricket.com.au. "I don't care if he gets another duck in the second innings of this Test match, he's going to be a lock for the Australian summer.
"Marnus is an absolute lock. Smith's a lock.
"(There are) still question marks around the guys in the middle, (Matthew) Wade and (Travis) Head.
"(Opener Marcus) Harris has looked tested against good quality fast bowling in this series. (Tim) Paine will continue as the captain but there are a few spots in the batting order that they'll be thinking about for the Pakistan series.
"With so many gaps like that, I'd like to see somebody like a Pucovski get an opportunity.
"Everyone's talked about him for a long time. He was in the Test squad back in Australia, he was in the Australia A squad over here.
"He hasn't got an opportunity yet but apparently he's quite an impressive young man.
"A couple of years before the next Ashes series you want to try and blood someone in that No.6 role and he'd be the obvious candidate."
Pucovski has enjoyed a brilliant start to his first-class career, scoring three centuries, including 243 against Western Australia last summer as part of Victoria's successful Sheffield Shield campaign.
He was part of Australia's Test squad to face Sri Lanka on home soil last summer and scored a century for Australia A in a 50-over clash against Gloucestershire in July before playing in the four-day intra-squad clash in Southampton ahead of the Ashes.
The 21-year-old has spoken in the past about his challenges with mental health but said on the Australia A tour he has taken positive steps in managing his wellbeing.
But a possible Test debut for Pucovski is still months away as the Australians fight to win the fifth Ashes Test and, with it, their first Test series on English soil since 2001.
As it stands after stumps on day three, Australia trail England by 382 and still need to pry out two more wickets before they set out on what will be record Ashes run chase.
While Ponting is far from confident Australia can get out of this fifth Test with victory, he says the batter-friendly pitch gives him a glimmer of hope Paine's side can break the 18-year drought.
But it would need another heroic batting effort from Smith, who already has three centuries this series and a whopping 751 runs in just six innings.
"Steven Smith has been outstanding, they're going to need him to get 150 at least in the second innings if they are to chase these runs down," Ponting said.
"The one bit of confidence I can take is the wicket hasn't really played too many tricks today. It will spin, (England left-arm spinner Jack) Leach will pose some questions to the left-handers, I don't think he'll be too difficult to the right-handers.
"Australia are going to have to play really well now. They’ve played poorly for the first three days of this game.
"They were really sloppy day one. The batting yesterday, to get bowled out for 225 on that wicket was a pretty poor performance.
"If they want to win the series, rather than just retain the Ashes, they have got a lot of work to do."
While Ponting can't put his finger on why the Australians – who have dominated most of the series to find themselves 2-1 up – have dipped so dramatically at The Oval, he is not questioning the attitude of the visitors.
But multiple catches have gone down, Paine has struggled again with the Decision Review System and the batting has been lamentable, which has all led to Australia facing a mountain to climb on the last two days.
"They've just been sloppy," Ponting said. "Talking to Justin (Langer, Australia men's head coach) before the game, he was really comfortable with the way they've trained and prepared.
"He said they probably trained better than they had for any other Test match coming into this one.
"I'm not for a second going to doubt their hunger or commitment because I know what it’s like around the team.
"They've just had one of those games where not much has gone right. They've got the referrals wrong again today twice, they dropped three catches on the first day – that's unlike them – they've had no batting partnerships on a good wicket when they had opportunities.
"It's just been a sloppy performance."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia won by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: England won by one wicket at Headingley
Fourth Test: Australia won by 185 runs at Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval