Ricky Ponting has backed the addition of Michael Neser to Australia’s squad for the ICC World Test Championship final but would turn to another pacer in the decider against India.
Australia great Ponting expects late-blooming quick Scott Boland to be named in the starting XI for the ICC World Test Championship final that begins on June 7 at the Oval, should Josh Hazlewood not be fit.
The 34-year-old Boland has taken 28 wickets in seven Tests since a stunning debut against England at the MCG in 2021 and now looms as a key weapon for Australia in the WTC final against India.
While Boland is yet to play a Test in England conditions and went wicketless in his only five-day clash with India in Nagpur, the right-arm pacer is in the running to be selected for the WTC final with reports Josh Hazlewood may not be available.
All-rounder Neser looms as another fast-bowling option for Australia but will firstly need to be added to their 15-player WTC squad when it is confirmed by Sunday 28 May.
“Boland's record when he's played over the last 12 months has been absolutely outstanding,” Ponting said on the latest episode of The ICC Review.
“He's one that would really, potentially thrive in these English conditions.
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“We’ve seen what he's been able to do in Australia when there has been a bit of assistance off the wicket there and with the ball. So I think he'll get the nod ahead of Neser.”
The 33-year-old Neser has pressed his claims for a spot in the WTC final squad during an impressive stint in the County Championship that has produced 19 wickets and 311 runs in five matches.
Neser has played only two Tests for Australia - in 2021 and 2022, both at the Adelaide Oval - but is a chance for a late call up to the WTC final squad as Hazlewood (side) and Marsh (adductor) return from injury.
“He will be a terrific bowler in English conditions. We have already seen that in County cricket,” Ponting said.
“He's perfectly suited to those conditions. He was probably a little bit unlucky not to be named in this squad right from the start, and certainly even in the Ashes squad, right from the start, just with the conditions.
“Neser has just come off some wickets. He got a very good hundred as well in the second innings of that last County game that they played.
“He's one of those no fuss sort of guys that is a very skillful player, and the skill-set that he has is actually very well suited to England.”
Ponting believes Australia will otherwise turn to the line-up that has served them so well in recent times and propelled the side to the top of the WTC standings.
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Australia finished the 2021-23 WTC cycle with 152 points from 19 Tests for 66.67% of their possible points, while India were next best with 127 points from 18 Tests and 58.8%.
Hazlewood has been a mainstay of Australia’s bowling attack since his debut in 2014 and taken 222 wickets in 59 Tests, but has only played four times in the current WTC cycle.
“Now that I know that Hazlewood’s probably not there, I think it probably pretty much picks itself,” Ponting said on the Australia XI.
“I think Warner will play. I'm listening to everything that's been spoken about the last few months, that Warner will play along with Khawaja, opening the batting.
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“Marnus [Labuschagne] three, [Steve] Smith four, [Travis] Head five, [Cameron] Green six, [Alex] Carey seven, [Mitchell] Starc eight, [Pat] Cummins nine, [Nathan] Lyon 10.
“Scott Boland will be the guy that will come in in Hazlewood's place.”
Ponting believes the Australia battling line-up is settled and coach Andrew McDonald this week backed veteran opener David Warner to make his mark in the WTC final and the Ashes series that will follow.
“There has only really been one batting question mark in the last 12 months, and that has been the opening spot with David Warner and how long he's going to continue to play,” Ponting said.
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“With Travis Head doing what he's done lately in that middle order, and Cameron Green really emerging on the scene in the last 12 months as well, I think the batting side of things pretty much picks itself.”
Ricky Ponting’s predicted Australia XI (if Hazlewood is unfit)
Usman Khawaja, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins (c), Nathan Lyon, Scott Boland