Former undisputed top dogs Australia are desperate to ensure Ricky Ponting ends his career in style by reclaiming the No. 1 ranking from South Africa in the final Test starting today.
The Australians have not been at the summit of Test cricket since 2009 but draws in the first two Tests mean they can replace the Proteas at the top of the rankings with a win in Perth. South Africa only need a draw to retain their crown.
Ponting’s announcement yesterday that he would retire after the match, which will see him equal Steve Waugh’s Australian record of 168 Tests, has added spice to an already keenly anticipated clash.
Captain Michael Clarke said Australia, currently ranked No. 3 in the world, were determined to see Ponting’s stellar international career end on a high note.
“It will only give us more inspiration, there is no doubt about that,” Clarke said of Ponting’s surprise announcement.
“It is a grand final for us, it is why you play the game, to play this final Test match against the No. 1 team in the world and know that if you win you will be the No. 1 team in the world,” he said. “Ricky’s announcement will only give us more inspiration to do everything we can to win this game.”
Ponting, who has scored 13,366 Test runs at 52.21, has just 20 runs at 6.66 in this series and said he was determined to produce something special in his final Test appearance.
“This is an unbelievable opportunity,” said the 37-year-old. “I said to the boys I am hungrier than ever and I want this win more than probably any game I have ever played in.”
“I will do whatever I can to contribute to a great team performance and if that leads to a win for the team and we get back to the top of the tree and No. 1 in the world, there is no better time for me to finish,” he said.
South African skipper Graeme Smith said Ponting was the “most competitive man I have ever played against” and conceded his retirement would fire up the Australians. However, he said the Proteas were ready for the challenge.
“That is not for us to worry about,” he said of Ponting’s decision and the impact it might have on the match. “Our job is getting ourselves ready and competing. From our perspective, nothing really changes.”
Australia could field a completely revamped bowling attack, with their three fast bowlers from the second Test in Adelaide, which ended on Monday, all ruled out.
They are also considering going with a four-man pace attack, relegating spinner Nathan Lyon to 12th man.
Clarke said Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus were still too fatigued from Adelaide to play in Perth, while James Pattinson has been sidelined by a side injury.
Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson will both play their first Test of the series, while at least one of uncapped duo Josh Hazlewood and John Hastings will make a Test debut.
Smith said Jacques Kallis would be given until the last minute to prove his fitness and was hopeful the all-rounder would play.
He declared Vernon Philander “ready to go” after being a late withdrawal from Adelaide with back soreness and said he wanted to play a specialist spinner, hinting Imran Tahir was set to make way for Robin Peterson.