ICC Hall of Famer Ricky Ponting has weighed in on the David Warner selection debate and named what he thinks Australia’s XI will be for the fourth Ashes Test in Manchester.
Warner has made 141 runs from six hits this Ashes series and his place at the top of Australia’s batting order has been further questioned after he failed twice during the most recent Test that England won in Headingley when dismissed by long-time nemesis Stuart Broad on both occasions.
Australia have back-up opener Marcus Harris in their squad waiting for his chance, while all-rounder Cameron Green is also likely to be fit for the Old Trafford Test and could be included if Australia wish to keep Mitchell Marsh in their XI following his magnificent century in Leeds.
What to do with Warner
While captain Pat Cummins has already come out and said Australian selectors will consider all options when settling on their XI for the crucial fourth Test, Ponting thinks Warner has done enough in the past to warrant another chance.
“I know there’s been a lot of chat the last couple of days since the end of Headingley and it’s more the fact that it’s Broad that’s getting him out, I think. I think if it was anybody else, the noise probably wouldn’t be quite as loud, but the fact that he struggled to get through the opening spells of Broad a few times in this series again, makes it a little bit more of a worry,” Ponting told host Sanjana Ganesan on the latest episode of The ICC Review.
“And the reason I say that is because I’ve played against teams in the past and bowlers in the past where you just know that they’ve got the wood on you and they’re on top of you and you just can’t get away from it because if I’m Ben Stokes, even if David Warner gets through the first spell of Stuart Broad, then I’ll give him a short break and I’ll bring him back again.
“When someone’s got you out 17 times, it does become as much a mental or probably more of a mental battle than it does a technical battle. But just thinking about the series, I’d be inclined to stick with David Warner.”
No warm-up fixtures hurting Aussies
Ponting thinks the fact that the likes of Harris and fellow reserve opener Matthew Renshaw haven’t played much first-class cricket over the last couple of months means it makes even more sense to retain Warner as they attempt to build on their 2-1 lead in the series.
“With the lack of tour games for Australia, it doesn’t just hinder the guys that are out of form, but it actually hinders the other guys that are trying to push for a place into the side because they’re just batting in the nets every day and they’re not getting any match practice either,” Ponting noted.
“If you’re going into the fourth Test match of an Ashes, with the Ashes on the line, do you bring a Marcus Harris or a Matt Renshaw in that simply haven’t played a game of cricket for…I don’t know how long since they’ve played a first-class game?
“Even if you did make the change, you’d be making a pretty courageous call to bring someone in that hasn’t been in the line-up.
“Right now I’m probably more inclined to give David another opportunity and hope that he can get through Stuart Broad and go on and make a big score.”
Advice for Warner in Manchester
Ponting is somewhat concerned by Warner’s form, with the former Australia captain noticing a tell-tale sign in the opener’s armour that shows he is struggling.
“I always talk about when you see guys smiling on the field, smiling for me, it’s almost a nervous reaction,” Ponting said.
“You’re never happy to play and miss at one or you’re never happy to nick one to slip, but for some reason when guys are under pressure, it’s nerves that makes you smile.
“I know when I was playing against players, as soon as they started smiling at me, I knew that I had them.
“You’ve just got to look at Warner’s dismissals in the last game and this sort of wry smile came on his face almost to say, you’ve done it again, you’ve got me again.
“I’d like to see him go the other way. I’d like to see him show that real bulldog fighting spirit that he’s got. I think like he showed in the first innings of the World Test Championship, like he showed in the first innings at Lord’s where he made runs there.
“I’d like to see him get back to that and if he gets back to that, I think with the way that I’ve seen him start in a couple of his innings, I honestly do feel a big score is just around the corner for him.”
Marsh v Green for all-rounder spot
Ponting expects to see Australia stick with Warner and once again leave Green on the outer and retain Marsh in their XI for Manchester.
“The biggest question Australia have got to answer right now is do they want Mitchell Marsh and Cameron Green in the same team?” Ponting posed.
“Because if they do want that, then I think it’s going to be Warner that goes.
“But if they’re happy to keep Marsh in and leave Green on the sideline for another week or two, it gives Warner a better chance of staying in the side.
“If they are happy to keep Warner in the side, then unfortunately it’ll be Cam Green that misses again because what we saw Mitchell Marsh do with the bat in the first innings, we haven’t seen Green look like doing that so far in this series.
“I know he’s a highly talented youngster, but with the national series on the line and what Mitch Marsh provided last game and with two top-order wickets as well, let’s not forget about the wickets that he got. I think they might keep him in.”
More rotation for the quicks
And Ponting sees no reason why Josh Hazlewood won’t be recalled at Manchester, with ailing pacer Scott Boland the most likely to make way after he struggled to make much of an impact in Leeds.
“I don’t know the reason why they left Hazlewood out of the third Test…I’m not sure if there was a little niggle there, if he was injured, if he was just a little bit tired after the first two games. But there was a big break after the first Test leading into the second Test. So you would have thought he would have got through that okay and been able to play the third one,” Ponting said.
“But as we saw, it hasn’t been Boland’s series so far. Unfortunately, for him and for Australia, Australia have had the worst of the bowling conditions every game. And therefore they’ve had the worst of the batting conditions as well with England winning every toss. England have got to bowl in the best conditions. They’ve got to bat in the best part of every game. So that’s sort of counted against Boland a little bit.
“I think they’ll go back to Hazlewood if he is fit and I don’t know if he’s not, but if he’s fit, I think they’ll go straight back to him, especially now with this. They’ve got another long break, right? So I think they’ll go back to Hazelwood for Manchester.
“(Mitchell) Starc has been brilliant. He’s got better and better as the series has gone on. (Pat) Cummins has been his normal self. And with this big break, I think it will help him as well. I think everyone was a little bit concerned if he could get through the six Test matches in seven weeks at the start, but he looks like he’s going fine at the moment.”
Ricky Ponting’s predicted Australia XI for Manchester: 1. David Warner, 2. Usman Khawaja, 3. Marnus Labuschagne, 4. Steve Smith, 5. Travis Head, 6. Mitch Marsh, 7. Alex Carey, 8. Mitchell Starc, 9. Pat Cummins, 10. Todd Murphy, 11. Josh Hazlewood