Ricky Ponting reveals best combined Australia-India Test XI
Australia legend Ricky Ponting has turned to recent form over reputations when picking a combined XI from the two teams set to clash in the ICC World Test Championship final.
Ponting firstly selected an opener from each team with a left-right combination as Rohit Sharma and Usman Khawaja were named at the top of the order.
The former Australia skipper identified Rohit as the player to captain the combined Test XI due to his extensive experience as a leader, although Pat Cummins is still seen as integral to Ponting’s line-up.
"I'll start with Usman Khawaja. His last couple of years, whether it has been in Australia or away, have been outstanding at the top of the order," Ponting said on The ICC Review podcast.
“Almost since he's been picked back in the Australian team, he hasn't put a foot wrong. The older he is getting, the better he is getting.
"I'm going left hand-right hand, so I'll go for Rohit Sharma as the other opener. He's not just entirely form-based either. I wanted him to be captain of the side.
“Pat Cummins, I'll mention him later, he'll be in this side, but just from the experience point of view with Rohit, he's obviously been captain a lot longer than Pat has, so I thought he deserved to be the captain of this team."
Rohit led India to their 2-1 Test series victory on home soil over Australia earlier this year and set the tone with a hard-fought century in the opening match in Nagpur.
The 36-year-old went on to finish this year’s Border-Gavaskar Trophy series with 242 runs at an average of 40.33.
"We know what sort of class he holds with the bat,” Ponting said.
“Even his recent form in the last series against Australia was great, scoring that unbelievable hundred on a wicket where everyone else really struggled on.”
Ponting was quick to pick Marnus Labuschagne as the No.3 batter in the combined Test XI, hailing his contribution in recent years as "equal, if not better than any other batsman in the world."
"Since he came into Test cricket as a concussion sub at Lord's when Steve Smith got hit by Jofra Archer, he's hardly put a foot wrong,” Ponting said.
“He's improved and come on in leaps and bounds to be where he is now, right at the top of the world Test Batting Rankings, so it was pretty hard to go past him."
Ponting was also firm in stacking the middle-order with what he sees as two of the greatest batters from the past decade.
"Pretty hard to go past the next couple I've got in the batting line-up, which are Virat Kohli and Steve Smith," Ponting said.
"If you talk about great players of the last decade, both of these guys will be right at the top of anyone's list.
"Both with exceptional Test records and both make a lot of hundreds.
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“I know it has been a couple of years and been a bit of a lean sort of trot with Virat, but he bounced back to his best in that last series against Australia and thoroughly deserves to be picked in the middle order."
While multiple batters from each team could stake a claim for the last middle-order spot, Ponting went leftfield with all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja as someone who could "easily hold down a number six or number seven spot".
"What I've seen with Ravi Jadeja the last two or three years in Test cricket is how much his batting has improved, and he can easily hold down a number six or number seven spot," Ponting said.
Ponting included Alex Carey as the wicketkeeper in the combined Test XI but was less certain where the Australian might bat in the line-up.
"It could be Carey at six and Jadeja at seven, or vice versa, whichever way the game was sort of going,” Ponting said.
"Alex Carey's Test career has grown a lot in the last 12 months as well. His wicketkeeping is almost second to none in world cricket at the moment.
"He had an unbelievable series in Australia last summer, and then his keeping in those trying conditions in India in the last Border-Gavaskar Trophy as well was absolutely outstanding.
"He probably didn't make the runs that we thought he might have got in those spinning conditions in India, but most batsmen didn't, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt there."
The Australia great stressed that he would want as many bowling options as possible, and would be comfortable throwing the ball to India left-arm spinner Jadeja at critical moments.
Ponting had little qualms choosing his three frontline quicks as Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Mohammad Shami.
Starc in particular came in for high praise from Ponting for his contribution in the last year as “some of the best that he's actually had in Test cricket”.
“Pat Cummins, you've got to have in any Test team that you're picking,” Ponting stated.
“Mitchell Starc's last 12 months, I think have probably been some of the best that he's actually had in Test cricket.
“He's developed a few more skills, I think his consistency has become a lot better. We know how dangerous he is with the new ball, but his old ball bowling has certainly become better.”
With Shami, Ponting pinpointed his IPL new-ball spells as a deciding factor in his inclusion despite this being a red-ball team.
Ponting added that Shami “thoroughly deserves” to be in the XI he was picking and applauded his recent form in Test cricket.
“I know we're picking a Test team here, and Shami’s Test record the last couple of years has been outstanding, but some of his bowling over the last few weeks in the IPL has also been absolutely unbelievable,” Ponting said.
“He's just about the pick of the new-ball bowlers I think now going around in the IPL. I know we're switching to a red ball, but I think he thoroughly deserves to be picked in that line-up.”
With one spot remaining in the combined Test XI and several stars from each team still to be named, Ponting turned to a second tweaker in Australia’s off-spinner Nathan Lyon.
“Nathan Lyon will be the other spinner in the side,” Ponting said.
“I judge spin on what Indian subcontinental batsmen normally talk about when they talk about facing spin bowling, and everyone I've spoken to from India or Sri Lanka and those sorts of places rate Nathan Lyon really highly. So he's going to go in there.”
While Ponting selected the combined XI from the two teams set to meet in the World Test Championship final, he is confident that the line-up would be more than competitive against all-comers.
“It's a pretty good side. I wouldn't want to be another team that had to come up playing against that team,” Ponting said.
“It's got pretty much every base covered, that's why I think everything leads to this being an intriguing World Test Championship Final.”
Ricky Ponting’s combined India-Australia Test XI: Rohit Sharma (c), Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Ravindra Jadeja, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Mohammad Shami