Ricky Ponting believes he has Australia's 16 best cricketers available to him as his side prepare for their defence of the Ashes in England. The Australians depart today for the four-month long tour, which includes the Twenty20 World Cup and a one-day series as well and Ponting is upbeat that the selectors have given him the right mixture of youth and experience to blunt the challenge of Andrew Strauss's side.
This is despite the fact Andrew Symonds, the all-rounder whose cause the Australian captain had championed publically prior to the selection meeting, had been left out of the squad. "I think the selectors picked our best 16 players," he said. "There was lot made of the comment I made the day before the actual team was announced about Andrew maybe being selected in the side or not being selected in the side. The facts are that unfortunately for him, he didn't make that final 16. Andrew is a very good cricketer, and he's been a lot of fun to have around the team over a long time. The facts are right now he's not in our Test squad."
It is a young Australian Test side touring, with only four players (Ponting, Michael Clarke, Simon Katich and Brett Lee) surviving from the 2005 series, and Ponting knows it is vital that the youngsters in the squad know how to handle the pressure. "It will be important for me to get to those younger guys, and tell them what to expect when we arrive," Ponting said. "Some of us senior guys who have been around before need to get the younger guys well-versed on what to expect. I'm on my fourth Ashes tour, so I've been around the block a few times. It's important that we focus and be in the best shape we can. We know all about the hype of the Ashes."
Shane Watson, one of the all-rounders who was selected, subject to fitness, over Symonds, appears to have made a trouble-free return to bowling after a medium-pace workout at a players' training camp this week. The often-injured Watson strained his groin while batting against Pakistan in Dubai in April, and the last time he bowled in match conditions was six months ago for his Queensland state side in the domestic first-class final. Form with the ball will improve his chances of a recall for the first Test beginning July 8 in Cardiff and also give Ponting more bowling options
The Australia coach Tim Nielsen said: "We're taking it softly, softly at the start and he appears to be going well at the moment. The plan will be to give him as much bowling as we can at the start of the [Twenty20 World Cup] series, keep working out where he sits and go from there." * AP