RICKY PONTING has backed Shane Watson to do a fine job if he has to captain Australia in the Boxing Day Test, as long as he doesn't think too much.
Michael Clarke is hopeful of overcoming a hamstring injury to lead the team into the second Test against Sri Lanka, but he has some work to do to prove his fitness.
Watson faces a bigger challenge than most to balance his roles as a top-order batsman and important seam bowler, not to mention the strains on his body and his habit of agonising over his game. Ponting planned to phone Watson on Friday to deliver a couple of pieces of advice, in case Clarke doesn't recover in time to play.
''I was going to actually give him a ring today and have a chat to him about this stuff, just in case it did happen,'' the recently retired former captain told Fairfax Media.
''Knowing what 'Watto' is like, he is a bit of a thinker, he is probably someone who is better off knowing on the morning of the game [if he's going to be captain] and not having to worry too much about the lead-up. What I will say to him is exactly what Steve Waugh said to me, which is that it's important for Shane to get himself prepared as a batsman, first and foremost, and let your instincts when you're out on the field take over. He has been around a lot, played in a lot of successful teams, and played with a lot of good leaders, so I am sure he will handle the situation well if it's presented.
''The fact he got the chance to do it in the one-dayers recently will give him more confidence with it. He has been very conscious about growing his leadership skills through the last three or four years, knowing that opportunities like this might have presented themselves down the track. The way things are going, there's a chance he might be leading the team on Boxing Day and I think he will do a fine job.''
Watson captained Australia in eight ODIs early this year for four wins, three losses and a tie.
He has played two Tests since recovering from a calf strain and his workload spiked when Ben Hilfenhaus broke down during the Hobart Test, when he helped Australia take a 1-0 series lead by bowling 47.4 overs for the match. That is the biggest bowling load in a Test, leading Cricket Australia to nurse him through to the Boxing Day clash, rejecting requests for him to play in the Big Bash League, in an effort to avoid yet another injury.
While the Hobart Test emphasised the importance of Watson's bowling, he has not scored a Test century for more than two years. The MCG holds good memories for him, as the scene of one of his two Test hundreds, 120 not out against Pakistan in 2009.