MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia's selectors need to show faith in their top six batsmen after undermining their confidence by chopping and changing the order during the recent Ashes series defeat, former captain Ricky Ponting has said.
Australia's 3-0 loss in England was marked by a string of calamitous batting collapses, as selectors dropped players and moved them up and down the order in a fruitless search for a winning formula.
With the first test of the return Ashes series starting in Brisbane next month, Ponting said there was no quick fix for Australia's woes and that selectors needed to decide on the nation's best batters and nurture them.
"I think everybody on the outside has been a little bit worried about what the next generation of players have got, particularly on the batting side of things," Ponting said in comments published by The Australian newspaper on Monday.
"Everyone acknowledges we have good depth of fast bowling, but where the next Michael Clarke is going to come from in the batting department is what everyone is concerned about.
"I don't think it is as bad as a lot of people might believe, I think they have just got to decide who the six best batters in the country are and I reckon they have got to back them for a while and try and release some of the pressure on the guys when they go out to bat.
"Take the last series by itself, Watto (Shane Watson) and Phil Hughes seemed to bat in every position in the order - that can't be good for the individuals or everyone else because if those guys are moving so is everyone else.
"The lack of stability and the lack of confidence that some of our players have been taking, not just into each game but into each innings they play, that doesn't make things any easier."
Australia's struggles, which included a dismal 4-0 test series loss away to India earlier this year, prompted former players and coaches to gather in Sydney last week to look at ways of solving the team's batting woes.
Ponting, a participant at the forum, backed Hughes and Usman Khawaja, who have struggled to convert their promise into consistent form at test level.
After scoring an unbeaten 81 in the first innings of the opening test at Nottingham, Hughes was dumped for the rest of the Ashes series after managing just two runs from his next three innings.
Recalled for the second test at Lord's, Khawaja scored a half-century in the second innings, but was dumped for the final test at The Oval after four consecutive failures.
"If the answer is not Hughes and not Khawaja and not those guys then what's going to happen?" Ponting said.
"If they don't pick them, those guys will go back to Sheffield Shield cricket, they will be the leading run scorers and will be the next ones picked again, because they are simply the best we have got and they have proved that over a period of years. That's my belief, anyway.
"The selectors have been looking for short-term fixes and that's not going to happen with this current group and it rarely happens in international sport or high-level sport," he said.
"The challenges for selection right now is picking guys who can actually improve while playing international cricket and the only way they can do that is if they are given a bit of assurance and a bit of love along the way."
The first test of the return Ashes series starts in Brisbane on November 21.
(Writing by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)