MELBOURNE Australia selectors want Ricky Ponting to be part of the back-to-back Ashes series in 2013, coach Mickey Arthur has said, but the third and final test against South Africa in Perth may be his last chance to reverse a run of wretched form.
Ponting scored a duck, four and 16 in three innings against the Proteas, sparking renewed calls for the ageing former captain to give up his place for a more youthful successor.
Ponting told Australian television earlier this week that he expected to have a "conversation" with selectors about his playing career in the near future, but Arthur said the 37-year-old already enjoyed their full backing.
"We back Ricky, we unanimously back Ricky Ponting to get us some runs," Arthur, who is on Australia's selection panel along with captain Michael Clarke, told reporters.
"By his own admission, Perth is a big test for him and that's by his own admission.
"He'll leave no stone unturned in his preparation going into Perth and I'm backing him for a big score in Perth, no doubt about that.
"If Ricky's scoring runs we certainly want Ricky Ponting around for six months, certainly the next six months. We want Ricky Ponting to go to the Ashes.
"Like any batsman, you've got to keep scoring runs, and that's by his own admission."
Ponting remains the only specialist batsman in Australia's side to have not made a half-century in the series, which is tied 0-0 after drawn tests in Brisbane and Adelaide.
While Ponting will be fighting to keep his place in the side, all-rounder Shane Watson can expect to slot back in at Perth after missing the first two tests with a calf strain.
Rob Quiney, who replaced Watson at number three in the batting order for the two tests, has been dropped from Australia's 14-man squad for Perth.
Watson would be fit enough to bowl as well as bat at Perth, Arthur said, in a boost for the Australians, who have lost fast bowler James Pattinson to a rib injury for the next four tests.
There are question marks over pacemen Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle as to whether they can recover in time for the Perth test starting on Friday, having bowled long spells in baking heat at Adelaide Oval without the support of Pattinson.
Australia have named four pace bowlers as back-up, including Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson, who both have test experience, and uncapped quicks Josh Hazlewood and John Hastings.
"I can't see them bowling any balls at training," South African Arthur said of Hilfenhaus and Siddle.
"We've got to see how they pull up, see how they come up in Perth. We're in a position where we could go with a totally different attack into Perth."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)