Vodafone Test Series v India
Ponting reveals his pick in 'unique' Test opener battle
It's the selection debate on everyone's lips and former captain Ricky Ponting has weighed in on who he would select to open the batting in the Tests against India
Martin Smith EXCLUSIVE
19 November 2020, 09:10 PM AEST
Twelve months after he called for Joe Burns to be locked in as David Warner's opening partner until at least the 2021-22 Ashes series, former Test skipper Ricky Ponting has again backed the incumbent to beat out young gun Will Pucovski for the first Vodafone Test against India.
Pucovski's record-breaking start to the domestic summer and the contrasting struggles of Burns have turned up the pressure on the Queenslander to hold his spot for the start of the four-Test series next month.
But Ponting has warned against making changes to a Test side that's riding a five-match winning streak and is the No.1 team in the world, despite not having played since early January.
Coach Justin Langer has already hinted that Burns will be retained for the start of the series, citing the mantra of the legendary Australian side that Ponting captained – 'it's harder to get out of the side than it is to get in'.
Ponting said staying loyal to incumbents in a winning team was a key pillar of the success his great side enjoyed and he's tipping Langer to do the same with Burns.
"I know when I was captain, I had a pretty strong philosophy with the selectors that once you're in my team, I wanted to do everything I could to make sure you stayed there," Ponting told cricket.com.au this week.
"I didn't want to be making changes and I always felt it was my responsibility as captain to get the absolute best out of the players I had in my team.
"I think it gives individuals a bit more confidence to go out and play a certain way and not be scared about their position in the line-up. That adds a lot around the group.
"Burns hasn't done much wrong. If you go back to last summer, he played really well in the first Test in Brisbane and I remember saying then to lock him in and give him a good go at it for a while.
"We read a lot into what's happened in the first few rounds of Shield cricket, and because they haven't played a Test match for so long, a lot people are forgetting what happened last summer. The boys have been on a roll with their performances in Test cricket and I always say you don't want to be making too many changes if you don't need to.
"But I think that's where this one becomes a unique one; Burns is about 30, and you've got a young guy who seems to be at the peak of his powers, who's been touted as a very good player for Australia and has been for a few years.
"That's where the decision is going to be a really tough one for them."
While acknowledging Burns has a strong relationship with Warner, Ponting did question comments last week from head selector Trevor Hohns that Warner would be consulted about who his opening partner should be for the first Test.
"I'm surprised they're even asking him, to be honest," Ponting said.
"I know what they're talking about because they have done well when they've played together. It's an interesting thing for a selector to come out and say.
"At the end of the day, they've just got to pick who they think the best player is. And if they think their best player and best option is Joe Burns, then stick with him. If they think Pucovski is a better player here and now, they should go with him."
The remainder of Australia's XI appears well settled ahead of the first Test; Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith are locked in, incumbents Matthew Wade and Travis Head have also had strong starts to the Shield season, while Ponting expects Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc to be Australia's three frontline quicks alongside Nathan Lyon.
But Ponting says Pucovski is doing everything he can to make his Test debut this summer, even if it ends up being in the middle order.
"I'm just reading the tea leaves a little bit, even with what Justin had to say about the relationship between Burns and Warner, my gut feeling is they won't go to Pucovski just yet," he said.
"But it'll only be a few slip ups from a few players and we know who the next cab off the rank is going to be.
"(Opening) is just another string to (Pucovski's) bow. I'm sure if a middle order spot came up and they weren't thinking about playing an allrounder, I'd think his name would be mentioned ahead of Cameron Green."
Ponting added that India's best side for the first Test is far from settled and that the departure of skipper Virat Kohli (paternity leave) during the series will add even further uncertainty around the make-up of their side.
The Indians are the holders of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy after their historic series win in Australia two years ago, but Ponting says the returns of Steve Smith and David Warner, the emergence of Marnus Labuschagne and the absence of Kohli for most of the series means the hosts will be a far tougher proposition this summer.
"The one thing we haven't spoken enough about is yes India were really good here last time, but with those guys (Smith and Warner) missing at the top of the order, that leaves a big gap in any team," he said.
"India will feel that without Kohli there (for three Tests), for his batting and leadership, that'll put all sorts of pressure on different players. You'd think (Ajinkya) Rahane will take over the captaincy, which will put extra pressure on him, and they've got to find someone to bat at that really important No.4 spot.
"I don't think they'll be clear in their own mind, even now, what their batting order will look like for the first Test. Who's going to open, who'll bat at four when Kohli goes?
"The questions that are being asked around Australia with Pucovski and Green, I think India have got a few more questions to answer.
"(Fast bowlers Mohammad) Shami, Jasprit Bumrah – will it be Ishant (Sharma), with it be Umesh Yadav, will it be a young guy like (Navdeep) Saini or (Mohammad) Siraj?
"They've got a lot of questions to ask as well. And which spinner? They've got a few spinners in their squad and they've got to figure out which one to pick for the pink-ball game in Adelaide."
Vodafone Test Series v India 2020-21
Australia Test squad: Tim Paine (c), Sean Abbott, Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Will Pucovski, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade, David Warner
India Test squad: Virat Kohli (c) (first Test only), Ajinkya Rahane (vice-captain), Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Shubman Gill, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Rishabh Pant (wk), Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Siraj
Second Test: December 26-30, MCG, 10.30am AEDT
Third Test: January 7-11, SCG, 10.30am AEDT
Fourth Test: January 15-19, Gabba, 11am AEDT