Should Ponting retire?

Ricky Ponting had a much awaited press conference a few hours ago to announce that he was okay with being dropped from Australia’s ODI side. Not in so many words, of course, but he did not say that he was actually retiring from anything, just that he didn’t expect to be selected in any more ODIs. I suppose it was new that he had been permanently axed, as opposed to just dropped for the series, but I think most people suspected that was the case anyway. The only thing of note that he said was that he was not retiring from Tests, which was probably not cause for and entire press conference. In fact, as far as press conferences go it was probably most underwhelming since a few years ago when Nasa announced their discovery of microbes that used arsenic in their DNA*.

The rest of this post is now on The Armchair Selector! I’ve explained why here, but if you already know or don’t care then keep reading the article here!

The fact that Ponting will not be retiring from Tests would seem to confirm that he intends to play in the 2013 and 2013/14 Ashes. He probably does have a couple of years left in him, but if he had gone out now (or soon) he would be going out on a high. As it is, I think his form will fall away again, if not against South Africa in a year then in the Ashes. He has had a very good series against India, but their bowling has been worse than uninspired. It’s worth remembering that against South Africa, against a good attack on reasonably helpful wickets, he scored only 70 runs in four innings. Worse, when he played on a Hobart pitch that was most similar to what he will find in England he made five and 16 against a talented, but hardly world beating attack. If he stays on for the Ashes he risks being humiliated by England’s powerful seam attack. Ponting will very likely score runs in the Windies, and perhaps afterward as well, but right now he has the chance to bow out on a high. Staying longer will jeopardise that and I doubt it will be a good idea for him in the long term.

It’s a difficult situation for Australia, however. Ponting staying one would appear to be a boost on the face of it; he is in form and looks like he still has runs in him and at the same time their younger players do not look ready yet. Unfortunately they do not have very many series before the Ashes. After touring the West Indies next month they do not play again until they host South Africa this winter. If Ponting struggles, either against South Africa or later in the first Ashes series, Australia are effectively stuck with him through the 2013/14 Ashes. This is a very risky policy; I don’t think Ponting will bat well in the Ashes and whilst someone like Khawaja or Marsh may not be an improvement, I think Australia would be well advised to look for a replacement for Ponting sooner rather than later. That said, it’s very difficult to drop a batsman with the record of Ponting, especially before there is a clear replacement. I don’t expect the Australian selectors to do so, but Ponting has put them in what appears to be a no-win situation.

The best case scenario for Australia is that Ponting plays reasonably well through the double Ashes series, then bows out and Australia can find his replacement and get him settled into the squad by 2016. I don’t think that’s likely, however, and I don’t think staying on is a good idea for Ponting or Australia.

*For the handful of people who aren’t familiar with that incident, Nasa publicised the press conference several days in advance as an announcement of an important discovery relating to the search for extraterrestrial life. The fact that they had discovered entirely earthbound, albeit interesting, microbes made it rather a damp squib.

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