Ponting cautions against dropping 'class' Khawaja
Former Test captain considers who will make way for Steve Smith for fourth Test and describes England's batting as "frail"
Sam Ferris at Headingley, Leeds
24 August 2019, 07:57 AM AEST
The impressive form of Marnus Labuschagne means Australia's selectors will have a tough decision on their hands when Steve Smith returns for the fourth Test, but Usman Khawaja should not make way for the former captain.
That's the view of Test legend Ricky Ponting, who says he would be "loath" to drop Khawaja to squeeze Smith back in despite the left-hander averaging 20 in the Ashes series so far.
"Thankfully I'm not a selector, I wouldn't want to be making that call," Ponting told cricket.com.au when asked who should be axed for Smith for the Old Trafford Test.
"Reading some of the stuff today I know there's a bit of stuff about Usman Khawaja (missing out), but he is a class player.
"I'd be loath to leave him out, but then you've got Matthew Wade who has made a hundred in the first Test and Travis Head who averages nearly 50 in Test cricket.
"Or you look back at the top and you might look at Marcus Harris again and open the batting with Khawaja and maybe bat Marnus at three and Smith at four.
"It's going to be a tough selection."
Smith is expected to return for the fourth Test after missing out in Leeds having failed to recover from the concussion he suffered at Lord's.
Labuschagne was Smith's concussion replacement in the second Test and scored 59 in the final innings to play a key hand in Australia drawing the match to preserve their 1-0 series advantage.
The Queenslander retained his place in the XI with Smith ruled out this week and backed up his knock at Lord's with a disciplined and dogged 74 on day one in Leeds.
Only a day later he was at the crease again after England were blown away for 67 by Australia's awesome pace attack, and once again made the most of some good fortune – he was dropped twice and out off a no-ball – to score 53 not out and put the visitors in a strong position at stumps.
Ponting had Labuschagne in his projected Ashes squad as far back as January and everything he's seen from the 25-year-old since has him convinced he can succeed at Test cricket.
"It's going to be pretty hard to leave Marnus out now, isn't it?" Ponting said.
"He played beautifully in the first innings and he's doing the job in the second innings.
"I said it when he played that Test match in Sydney (against India in January) as well, I hadn't seen much of him in domestic (cricket), I saw a little bit of the way he started his Test career in the UAE but he just looks like a pretty organised player to me.
"I know what sort of character he is, he loves the game, trains hard and works hard at his game.
"It just looks like he fits at Test level as far as I'm concerned. It would be hard to leave him out."
While Australia have a batting conundrum ahead of the next Test, Ponting says England have more to worry about.
The hosts were skittled for their fourth-lowest total ever on home soil on day two in 27.5 overs, with Joe Denly's 12 the only score in double figures.
Australia's pace attack, led by Josh Hazlewood's 5-30, ripped through England in what were meant to be ideal batting conditions under brilliant sunshine.
Ponting didn’t hold back on England’s batting performance, suggesting their top order has "serious cracks" in it.
"They're frail," Ponting said. "I said before the series started I thought they had more problems with their batting than we did.
"There was a lot made about how our top order was going to shape up and who comes in and who doesn't play, but you look at their lineup now and as we saw again today, there are some serious cracks in their batting.
"Their techniques are poor, their shot selection today was terrible as well.
"And it was a big day for them. They had to win today knowing they had to pretty much win this game to be a chance to win the Ashes and they've been bowled out for 67.
"Pretty ordinary effort."
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, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia beat England by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval