Australia yesterday prompted suspicion about Ricky Ponting's availability for the fourth Test by calling for reinforcements.
In summoning the uncapped Usman Khawaja to the squad as cover, the selectors immediately cast doubt on their captain's availability because of a broken finger.
Whatever Khawaja's credentials, Ponting's absence would be deeply felt. He might not have made a run to speak of in the Ashes series so far but his team revere him in a way that they would not his stand-in Michael Clarke, who is also badly out of form. It might bring a sudden halt to the impetus gained by Australia's comeback victory by 267 runs in the third Test.
The panel's chairman, Andrew Hilditch, attempted to quash worries that Ponting would not play but they were not entirely convincing.
“While the NSP are confident Ricky Ponting will be available for the Boxing Day Test, through an abundance of caution we have named Usman Khawaja as the standby player,” he said.
“Usman richly deserves this opportunity following his excellent form at domestic level last season and continuing on this season.”
That is selector speak for being desperately worried about the state of an injury and not really having a clear cut replacement in mind.
Ponting broke his finger fielding at second slip on the third night of the Test attempting to take catch off Mitchell Johnson. The ball rebounded to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin but Ponting left the field immediately.
This was supposed to be precautionary. Ponting would do almost anything to play, short perhaps of amputation, but will not compromise his team if he cannot hold a bat properly.