Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Ponting Makes Boxing Day Cut

Australia have dropped batsmen Phillip Hughes and Usman Khawaja for the Boxing Day Test against India at Melbourne - but former captain Ricky Ponting keeps his place in a 13-man squad.

Hughes and Khawaja were omitted after Australia's humiliating defeat by New Zealand earlier this month.

Uncapped Tasmania opener Ed Cowan is set for a Test debut at the top of the order as Shane Watson is out injured.

Seamer Ben Hilfenhaus and fit-again batsman Shaun Marsh are also recalled.

All-rounder Dan Christian, who played three Twenty20 internationals in 2010 but is yet to feature for his country in the longer formats of the game, remains an option after he was 12th man for that defeat by the Kiwis in Hobart.

Ponting had been warned by coach Mickey Arthur that his place was not guaranteed, but has not been discarded despite being outscored by both Hughes and Khawaja at Hobart.

Arthur told BBC Radio 4:"To be honest, I still think Ricky still has a little bit left in him. He's still fit enough, providing he's scoring runs, to play a role in that Ashes series in 2013 - but the ball's in his court.

"Any international cricketer's currency is runs if you're a batsmen and he's got to put those runs on the board."

Tellingly, Hughes and Khawaja were not part of a three-day batting "boot camp" organised before the squad was named - although Ponting, Christian, Watson, captain Michael Clarke, Mike Hussey and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin were included.

Instead, Hughes and Khawaja played for a Cricket Australia Chairman's XI in a warm-up game against India, while Cowan's hundred in that game may have aided his selection.

The main choice for the final XI appears to be between Marsh and Christian, if the former's back injury does not resurface, while Hilfenhaus - who was dropped after the Ashes series defeat by England just under a year ago - will challenge Mitchell Starc for the third seamer's role, as Ryan Harris is not yet fit enough to return.

National selector John Inverarity said: "Ed Cowan has been in excellent form in recent weeks. His inclusion is in recognition of his consistently good performances and we anticipate that he can provide steadiness at the top of the order.

"Ben Hilfenhaus has regained form this season and he provides a strong and reliable bowling option.

"We see both Phillip Hughes and Usman Khawaja as developing players with bright futures and remaining as players of significance. They are determined young men and I know they will work hard to push strongly for further consideration."

The traditional Boxing Day Test at the MCG is the start of a four-Test series against India.

Australia squad for first Test against India: Michael Clarke (capt), Ed Cowan, David Warner, Shaun Marsh, Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Daniel Christian, Brad Haddin (wk), Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Ben Hilfenhaus.

India Test squad: Mahendra Dhoni (capt & wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun, Umesh Yadav.

Phillip Hughes: 8 Tests, 404 runs (av 26.93)
Usman Khawaja: 6 Tests, 263 runs (av 29.22)
Ricky Ponting: 6 Tests, 293 runs (av 26.63)