England given a break as Ponting takes a holiday

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Australia are so confident they will qualify for the final of the Commonwealth Bank one-day series that they have decided to rest Ricky Ponting, the captain, after only two matches. Ponting will miss Friday's day-night encounter against England in Brisbane to take what is becoming known as his annual mid-season holiday.

Ponting was rested for part of last winter's Tri- Nations series, an act for which he was criticised. The world's leading batsman was not censured for taking a break, but for its timing, as Ponting missed the Australia Day match. He will be back to lead his side against England in Adelaide on 26 January.

"We feel that Ricky needs and deserves a break," said Andrew Hilditch, Australia's chairman of selectors. "He has played in every match for Australia in all forms of the game since September and we think it is the right time for him to allow his body to rest ahead of the World Cup." Brad Hodge replaces Ponting in thesquad and Adam Gilchrist will captain the side.

The move will be welcomed by England, who have yet to beat an Australian side on the tour. And England may be set for even greater Ashes humiliation in the future after Cricket Australia expressed its desire to turn the contest into a six-Test series. "In principle we would like to schedule six Test matches for every Australian summer," said Peter Young of Cricket Australia.

"We have six states in Australia and we would like to keep interest in cricket high in them all. There are a number of practical issues that need to be resolved and the England and Wales Cricket Board are aware of our interest. We know that we would have to act in a reciprocal manner and possibly play six Test matches in England."

The money men in England would love the Ashes to expand after the huge interest generated by the last two series. Whether those involved with playing cricket would be that keen is another matter. England's schedule is as full as any side's in the world and an extra Test would increase the strain on players.

Money, sadly, rather then the quality of cricket appears to be the motivation behind most decisions in the sport these days and it is hard to believe the ECB would turn down such an offer. Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, whose job it is to manage the players, was unprepared to commit either way.

"The ECB have not spoken to me about it," said the England coach. "We often speak about the amount of cricket we play. We have been going since 4 February 2006 and it will be 14 months of non-stop cricket by the end of the World Cup. Introducing more cricket would complicate the issue even further as far as England are concerned because we play five-Test series against Australia and South Africa, and four-Test series against West Indies and India. Other countries just play three and they have breaks. We struggle to get them."

* The South Africa batsman Herschelle Gibbs has been banned for two Tests by the International Cricket Council for derogatory remarks he made about a section of Pakistan supporters, during the first Test in Centurion on Sunday, which were picked up by a stump microphone.