Sydney:Ricky Ponting may never play another Test after being withdrawn from next week's Ashes contest in Sydney due to his broken left finger. Ponting's absence creates a raft of issues, including the appointment of Michael Clarke as Australia's 43rd Test captain later this afternoon, and whether he will add to his 152 appearances in a baggy green.
Australia delayed naming their squad for Sydney - Usman Khawaja will be included - after learning Ponting's fracture had deteriorated during the fourth Test at the MCG. That result ensured England retained the Ashes and meant Ponting has failed to win them for a record third time.
"I'm devastated to tell you the truth, it was the news I was dreading," Ponting said after landing in Sydney. "During the game I didn't think I'd done too much more to it."
When asked if he was considering retirement he said: "I'm not thinking about it at all." Ponting, who scored only 113 runs in the first four games, could face surgery on his finger, but is expected to be fit to guide Australia in their push to win a fourth consecutive World Cup. He had an x-ray on the final day of the Melbourne defeat and it showed the fracture had moved during the match.
"He needs to commence treatment immediately to achieve a satisfactory outcome," Alex Kountouris, the team's physiotherapist, said. "The treatment options include surgery or aggressive splinting and immobilisation of the injured finger."
He will see a specialist again over the next day to decide on the best option. "His return to cricket will be based on how quickly the fracture heals and he will hopefully commence training in the later part of the Australian summer," Kountouris said. "He is expected to be fully fit for the World Cup."
Ponting's Test future is less clear as Australia's next five-day engagement is currently scheduled for Sri Lanka in August, although there is a talk of a series against Bangladesh after the World Cup. He is already 36 and Australia have realised during their poor Ashes performance that they have to start rebuilding through young players.
The deputy Clarke will replace Ponting, who took over the captaincy in 2004. However, Clarke has had a poor campaign with the bat as well and there are lingering questions over his suitability to control the team at such a crucial period.
Khawaja was on standby for Ponting in Melbourne and was also called late into the squad for the opening game in Brisbane when Clarke had a bad back. He started the season well for New South Wales, scoring a double-century, and leads the Sheffield Shield run list with 598 at 74.75.
Despite his strong overall record, he hasn't posted a first-class hundred since his 214, although he has produced some useful half-centuries. The past four Tests have shown that Australia need big scores from their top six to survive against England and it is a tough ask for a debutant to provide such leadership to an ailing outfit.