Ricky Ponting backed to retain Australia captaincy

Ricky Ponting will captain Australia again, according to coach Tim Nielsen.

Ponting will miss the final Test against England next week with a broken finger, and with his long-term future already in some doubt after the failure to win back the Ashes and his own poor form, speculation has swirled that he had skippered his final match.

But Nielsen today backed the 36-year-old to return.

Asked if he had captained his last match, Nielsen said: "I wouldn't have thought so. He'll miss this Test match through injury and Michael (Clarke) has been named as his replacement while his finger recovers. I still think there's plenty of kick in the old dog yet, so to speak.

"Ricky, as he's the first to admit, hasn't had the best series but he's been a tremendous leader for us and still is.

"I expect once his finger's right and he's back playing cricket I expect he'll assume the leadership role again."

Ponting played through the injury in the fourth Test at the MCG, where England's resounding innings victory ensured they would retain the Ashes.

Further x-rays have now shown Ponting may need surgery, ruling him out of the new year Test in Sydney.

"I had a good chat with him last night," Nielsen added.

"His finger was still really sore. It was a really difficult decision for him [to withdraw] because he didn't want to be seen to be or feel like he was leaving his mates behind.

"That's the style of man he is. Ultimately, it's just a situation where the finger won't allow him to perform at this best . . . it's hard enough to perform at your best under the pressure we've been under in the past four or five weeks without having injuries to compromise that also.

"With a look to what we have coming up, more problems with the finger could have meant a much longer-term concern. I think, with the medical staff, he's made a very prudent decision with an eye to playing some good cricket for Australia again as soon as he can."

Michael Clarke has been named captain in Ponting's absence, with Brad Haddin vice-captain.

Cricket Australia chief executive officer James Sutherland said: "Given the injury to Ricky Ponting the national selection panel made a recommendation to the Cricket Australia Board this afternoon that Michael Clarke assume captaincy of the Australian Cricket team for the fifth and final Vodafone Ashes Test match in Sydney and for the Commonwealth Bank one-day series.

"This recommendation was unanimously endorsed by directors.

"Brad Haddin has been appointed as vice-captain for this remaining Test match while Cameron White will deputise for Michael in both the one-day and Twenty20 form of the game.

"We congratulate Michael on his appointment and wish him well for the next few weeks."

Pakistan-born batsman Usman Khawaja has come into the 12-man squad as Ponting's replacement, and Nielsen has challenged the 24-year-old to show he can be Ponting's long-term replacement when the captain eventually does retire.

"Ricky Ponting isn't going to play for Australia forever," Nielsen said. "Someone's got to bat a number three after him and they're always going to feel a little bit of pressure stepping into his shoes.

"There's always going to be comparisons made and whoever does that will have big shoes to fill. But Usman has been, if not the best, in the top couple of domestic players over the past couple of years.

"Technically he's very sound and mentally he's strong and looking forward to the opportunity. I think he'll do a good job."

Doug Bollinger has also come into the Australia squad in place of the injured Ryan Harris.

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