Australia's national selection panel have foreshadowed they will stick with allrounder Hilton Cartwright in the number six batting berth for the upcoming Magellan Ashes Series against England, former Test captain Ricky Ponting has told cricket.com.au.
Even though Cartwright recorded a pair of ducks in his most recent JLT Sheffield Shield appearance for Western Australia, against a Test-strength New South Wales attack, Ponting believes the selectors have effectively flagged their view that the 25-year-old is the man for the job.
The ex-skipper cited the decision to include Cartwright in last summer's final Test against Pakistan in Sydney (in an already decided series), his recall for the crucial second Test in Bangladesh last September (as a second seamer after Josh Hazlewood was injured) and the recently concluded ODI campaign in India.
It was during that five-match series against India that Cartwright, to the surprise of many, was installed as David Warner's opening partner after regular opener Aaron Finch suffered a recurrence of a calf strain.
Ponting claims the selectors' surprise call to elevate Cartwright for the SCG Test against Pakistan last January – as a third seam option alongside spin pair Nathan Lyon and Steve O'Keefe - was effectively a 'dry run' ahead of the Ashes series beginning later in the year.
And that the move to throw him against the new white ball in India further indicated the Zimbabwe-born allrounder was in the selectors' planning to combat England.
"I think it's going to be hard for them (the selectors) not to pick Cartwright," Ponting told cricket.com.au in a one-on-one interview this week.
"He averages 50 in first-class cricket, none of the other guys (in the running for the number six berth) around the country are doing that.
"I know he got a pair in the last Shield game, but he also played the last Test in Australia, in Sydney last year.
"So someone is seeing something there.
"I thought it was a shock selection when he got picked in Sydney last year, but maybe that was a bit of an audition for what this summer looks like.
"They jumped at the opportunity to play (him) opening the batting in the one-day series in India just gone, when he went as a spare batter.
"So unless something extraordinary happens this week in this last round of Shield games, then I think Cartwright will be the man at six."
Since making his first-class debut for his adopted state WA in January 2013, Cartwright has scored 1575 first-class runs (across all Tests and tour matches as well as first-class fixtures in Australia) at an average of 47.73 with four centuries and a highest score of 170 not out.
The only Australia players to boast a higher comparable average in the same formats over that time (from a minimum of 10 innings) are current Test captain Steve Smith (65.17), retired duo Adam Voges (57.81) and Marcus North (56.31), and Ponting who scored 556 runs at 61.78 before he quit the game just months after Cartwright debuted.
The other batters touted as potential rivals for the number six role, which selectors and Smith have identified as being up for grabs along with the keeper's role for the start of the Ashes summer, have inferior first-class averages to Cartwright in Tests, tour and domestic games over the same period.
Not including runs they might have made during stints in England's county competition.
Cartwright's WA teammate Shaun Marsh is next-best, having scored 3857 runs at 47.04 since January 2013, a better return than Jake Lehmann (1684 at 42.10), Moises Henriques (1979 at 40.39), Kurtis Patterson (2570 at 39.54), Cameron Bancroft (3268 at 38.90), Glenn Maxwell (1905 at 37.35), Marcus Stoinis (2353 at 36.77) and Daniel Hughes (1154 at 36.06).
It is Cartwright's record with the bat, rather than the 19 wickets at 43.74 he has claimed with his right-arm seamers, that Ponting claims should be the criterion upon which the number six vacancy is filled.
Despite the luxury of having allrounders the calibre of Shane Watson and Andrew Symonds at his disposal during his 77 Tests as Australia captain, Ponting maintains the view that the number six role should be filled by the best available batter.
If that person is also capable of contributing a few overs with the ball should the front line attack prove unable to deliver the required results, it should be viewed as a bonus rather than a deal breaker.
"I'm a believer in (playing) your best batsman at six," Ponting said.
"If you can get a few overs out of them, all well and good but the bits and pieces types don't ever have much impact on Test matches, I don't think.
"So I'd be scouring around for who we think is our best equipped number six batsman for an Ashes series, pick him and give him a go."
2017-18 International Fixtures:
Magellan Ashes Series
First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets
Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets
Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets
Gillette T20 INTL Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 13
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21