LONDON - Ricky Ponting has cast doubt on Alastair Cook’s international future beyond the upcoming Ashes, after drawing comparisons with the end of his own career.
Cook, England’s all-time leading run-scorer, goes into Thursday’s opening Test at The Gabba with 147 caps and a batting average of 46.33, a dip from its zenith five years ago, when it stood at just over 50.
Ponting entered the 2010-11 Ashes with 148 matches behind him and although he continued for a further 18 months after relinquishing the captaincy, it was the beginning of the end for him.
Over his final 20 Tests he averaged just 33.17 — well below his previously stellar mark of 54.68 — with his tally of runs including just two hundreds.
"I know myself having been through it that when you’ve played a certain amount of games or scored a certain amount of runs — like Cook — trying to find ways to improve on a daily basis becomes really difficult," said Ponting, a BT Sport pundit.
"Just trying to hang on and maintain a level of performance gets harder and harder."
Ponting, his country’s most successful Test captain, says of the Australia Test selections that he would have stuck with the Middlesbrough-born Matthew Renshaw.
"I know his numbers don’t really stack up the last few weeks the way he would have liked and the way some of the coaches and selectors would have liked, but we have seen enough — even if he’s not batting well," Ponting said.
"The sort of temperament he has, it doesn’t faze him too much. He played some really gutsy knocks last summer when he played and missed at a few but was able to put it to the back of his mind and get back into his bubble to apply himself once again."
Ponting suggests an England side "who have a few more issues in their line-up than they have had for the last 10 or 12 years", will be placed under severe pressure by Australia’s new-look pace attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.
"They are going to cause some real problems to the English batsmen and the reason I say that is they have all been around for a little while now, they are fast bowlers who are just about at their physical peak and on their way up.
"We saw what Mitchell Starc was able to do in the last few rounds of Sheffield Shield cricket, taking two hat-tricks in the one game, so he is obviously in some good touch.
"Cummins has been on the park for six to eight months uninterrupted, and is bowling very quick. And Hazlewood just seems to get better from series to series.
"There is no doubt that a lot does rest on keeping those guys fit but if they don’t there are still a couple of guys around in state cricket that can easily fill the void there."
Joe Root’s England begin their quest to retain the urn at one of the world’s toughest venues for visitors — it is 29 years since a touring team was last successful in Brisbane, when Viv Richards’s great West Indies team won by nine wickets.
"Australian teams have prided themselves on starting the first Test in a nice strong manner — and if they do that then England will find it really tough at the Gabba."