Former Australian skipper and current assistant coach Ricky Ponting had made up his mind that wicketkeeper batsman Matthew Wade needed to be back in the Australian whites sooner rather than later about a month back. Ponting witnessed Wade’s ‘ball-striking’ up close in the nets just outside Edgbaston in the latter stages of Australia’s ICC World Cup campaign.
Ponting would have liked to see Wade playing in the World Cup semifinal against England but he was overlooked for the tie. A month later he was back in the playing XI, this time for the first Ashes Test and notched up his third Test ton — six-and-a-half years after his second one.
"I thought he was very unlucky not to get a crack last summer and that he was on the cusp of playing in the World Cup semi-final as well," Ponting was quoted as saying by cricket.com.au.
"I'd had a look at him once he joined the squad and his game was just on another level to all of the other guys. On the back of what he'd done in those couple of Australia A games, his form was almost irrepressible.
"You almost had to pick him because of the great space he's been in as a batsman. I was throwing the balls to him more often than not and he was just on a different level. A big part of that is confidence because he'd made runs every time he'd batted for a year and a half,” Australia’s assistant coach said.
"A lot of my thoughts around him potentially playing in the semi-final were based on how well he was playing and how confident he was. Even the guys who were bowling to him or standing behind me when I was throwing balls to him, they'd say, 'This bloke is the best batsman in the world at the moment’,” he added.
Despite Wade's sizzling form, Ponting still believes selectors were brave to pick him as a specialist batsman for the start of an Ashes series and have been vindicated by doing so.
"His selection is absolutely justified now," Ponting said. "I think it was a fairly courageous one to get him in, but he just kept knocking on the door so hard that they had to make that change.
"I'm not surprised that he's done what he's done in this Test match. I actually said on day one … when we lost those three early wickets I said, 'Don't worry, Wadey's going to get a hundred anyway'. He obviously missed out there, but he's got it in the second innings,” the former Australian captain added.
Ponting added that Wade's century and the solid performance of Travis Head in this Test match will dictate the make-up of Australia's side for the rest of the series — with no room in the top six for an all-rounder like Mitchell Marsh or Marnus Labuschagne. The former skipper says Head, Wade and Steve Smith will all need to take more responsibility with the ball to support the four frontline bowling options.
"They'll have to (stick to four bowlers) now and that's where Travis and Smithy become really important because they need to be the allrounder," he said. "Wadey might have to bowl a few extra overs as well.
"I think Travis is an underrated off-spinner. If you go back 12 months ago, he was the number one off-spinner in the one-day team when they were bowling him ahead of (Glenn) Maxwell.
“The only downside of that is that Nathan Lyon is obviously there so there's two off-spinners. But I think if we get to Lord's and it's a flattish wicket, we can expect Smithy to do some more bowling and Travis will have to do a fair bit as well,” Ponting felt.
Ponting added he would be surprised if England dropped Moeen Ali for the second Test of the series at Lord's, despite his disappointing performance at Edgbaston.
A report in the UK Telegraph on Monday suggested England will look to replace Moeen with left-arm spinner Jack Leach in the hope he can limit the effectiveness of Steve Smith, who averages just 35 against bowlers who turn the ball away from him compared to his career average of 63.
"They would think about doing that," Ponting said of replacing Moeen with Leach. “But the flipside of that is we have a lot of left-handers in our side who can struggle a bit with the ball turning away from them (as Moeen’s off-spin does).
"Whatever they've tried this game to bowl to Smith hasn't worked, but I doubt they'd make a selection change that big just on one player,” he added.
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