England's flawed policy gave us head start, claims Ponting

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The Independent Online

Ricky Ponting believes England's flawed selection policy at the start of the Ashes indicated to Australia that there was unrest among Andrew Flintoff's squad. Ponting, the Australian captain, was loath to criticise England during the 5-0 Ashes whitewash, preferring instead to talk about how well his own team were playing. But in a frank interview he admitted that he could not understand why England selected Geraint Jones and Ashley Giles ahead of Chris Read and Monty Panesar for the first Test in Brisbane.

"When England landed in Australia there had to be some sort of unrest in their camp," Ponting told BBC Radio Five Live. "When the guys landed, Read was the incumbent keeper, yet he was tapped on the shoulder and told that he was not going to take part in the series. Panesar was in exactly the same position with Giles coming back. I just felt that there had to be some unrest in their squad and I think that probably came through in their cricket.

"I was surprised Panesar didn't start and I couldn't really work out why Read didn't start, either. He certainly looks the part with the gloves and he did OK in the Pakistan series with the bat. At the end of the day, you have to pick your best players and in the last couple of Tests it became pretty apparent that Read is a better keeper than Jones. When those sort of things happen in a team, it unsettles a few players."

Duncan Fletcher and Flintoff, England's coach and captain, have been widely criticised for overlooking Panesar and Read at the start of the series, and the options they took have led to demands for a change in selection procedure on tour. On previous overseas tours, the selectors have picked the initial squad, then left it to the captain and coach to name the first XI.

But in Australia the views of the selectors in England were different to those of the captain and coach, the result being a change in policy. The discrepancy could lead to an independent selector travelling with the team and being responsible for the XI that is named. When asked to pick the pivotal moments of the Ashes, Ponting, who won the Allan Border medal yesterday as the country's best player in the past year, felt that Stephen Harmison's first ball in Brisbane, which went straight to Flintoff at second slip, highlighted England's inner fears.

"Harmison's first ball said a bit about how nervous he and England were," said Ponting. "The first ball of the first Test and the last day of the second Test were pretty significant. They were unbelievably good moments for the Australian team. They were the defining moments of the whole series. When a big moment came along, it was the Australian team that stood up.

"We had a lot of respect for England when they landed here. Their record in Test match cricket spoke for itself and they were the No 2 team in the world, and you don't get there unless you have played good cricket for a long period of time. We were expecting a tough challenge but we were ready. I could not have asked for more. It was a bit of a dream series for all of us really - to play the brand and style of cricket we did. We can all be pretty proud of the way we have applied ourselves over the past three months."

While England contemplate what to do with their coach, Cricket Australia yesterday revealed Tim Nielsen as the national side's new coach. Nielsen, the former South Australian wicketkeeper and head coach at Cricket Australia's centre of excellence in Brisbane, will succeed John Buchanan, who retires at the end of the World Cup.

"I'm incredibly proud, honoured and excited," said Nielsen. "This job represents a great opportunity to work with a fine group of players who are an excellent cricket team. Filling John Buchanan's shoes will be a big job. John is a leading light in cricket coaching globally and his record speaks for itself."

Ponting was equally pleased with the appointment. "On a personal level I'm delighted, having played against Tim and worked with him when he was assistant coach," he said. "We have an excellent working relationship and I'm looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead."