Cricket: Is Ponting's time up?

Team-mates and opponents are adamant the aura is still there but reputation alone might not be enough to keep Ricky Ponting in the Australian test team beyond this tour.

The heat was already on the former captain to hold his spot heading into next month's test series against New Zealand but, after making a second consecutive duck in the first innings of the second test against South Africa in Johannesburg, Ponting might have just one more innings to save his career.

In five first-class innings so far on tour, Ponting has been out lbw in almost identical fashion on four occasions. He has always trusted his eye and natural instincts. But with his 37th birthday just around the corner, it seems as though the game might finally be up for the greatest Australian batsman since Don Bradman.

In the tour match at Potchefstroom, the two innings in Cape Town and Friday's effort at The Wanderers, Ponting has tried to flick the ball off his pads, only to miss and be struck in front. Since the Ashes last December, Ponting has averaged just 14.15 from 13 innings. In that time, he hasn't scored a half century and has seven single-figure scores and three ducks to his name.

South African spearhead Dale Steyn, who evened up the test after claiming four wickets in Australia's first innings, admits his side have discovered a weakness in Ponting's game.

"When you get someone out three times lbw, it's definitely a strategy we're working on against him," said Steyn, after taking 4-64 in the first innings as Australia made 296 in reply to the home side's 266.

South Africa were 135-3 40 overs into their second innings on day three overnight. Pat Cummins, Australia's second youngest debutant ever at 18, took the wickets of opener Jacques Rudolph for 24 and Jacques Kallis for 2. Ponting made his test debut in 1995, when Cummins was aged two.

Asked if Ponting had lost confidence, Steyn said: "I don't know. He's a great player ... but I can tell you what we want to do when we come up against any opposition is make their first 10 to 15 balls as difficult as possible. We've done that with Ricky. He still does have the aura - he's Ricky Ponting ... When he walks out to bat, you know this guy means business. He deserves all the respect he gets, but we're going to make it as hard as we can for him to score runs."

Australian assistant coach Justin Langer has indicated Ponting is too valuable to cut from the team and he isn't the only person in the Australian set-up with this opinion.

"Ricky is awesome to have around the team. He shows his experience. I'm sure he'll be fine. He'll come out the back end of that ... he's still very confident around all the guys," said opener Phil Hughes.

Adjudicating on Ponting's fate is the biggest decision new chairman of selectors John Inverarity will make. Ponting deserves a fitting send-off, but given he hasn't scored triple figures since January 2010, selectors might not be able to justify a swansong with the national team at a crossroads.

Australia were cruising at 174 for none midway through the second day but lost all 10 wickets for just 122 runs to limp away with a 30-run lead heading into the third day. Hughes and Shane Watson (88) produced a 174-run stand to put Australia in control but that disappeared when Ponting was trapped lbw by Steyn and Australia lost three quick wickets.

Scoring at five an over, Watson and Hughes might have finally produced the breakthrough partnership they needed. Hughes brought up 1000 test runs before being dismissed, making him the fourth youngest Australian to do so after Bradman, Neil Harvey and Doug Walters.

- Agencies

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