The players in contention for Ponting's place

There was sympathy all around Australia, and particularly in Victoria, when talented leftie Rob Quiney was dismissed for the second duck of his Adelaide Test. It was assumed that his Test career had come to an end after two matches and nine runs. Some would have thought he was unlucky to get some good balls early in his innings, others might have thought his technique was not good enough for the highest level.

But Quiney remains one of the first cabs off the Australian batting rank in the wake of Ricky Ponting's retirement. And there are not that many other cabs competing with him – only five players are averaging above 50 this season, and two of those are Ponting and former Test keeper Brad Haddin.

If Quiney holds his form and continues to score heavily in the Sheffield Shield – difficult to do in the short term because of the impending mid-season hiatus for the Big Bash – he should be a chance to follow in the footsteps of players such as Matthew Hayden and Damien Martyn to have a second act at the top, possibly next winter in an Ashes series.

There is no golden boy banging down the selectors' doors, or long queue of batsmen in irresistible form, but things might not be as grim as they first appear.

Test cricket remains a big step up from domestic level, and most state-based stars take at least a few Tests to understand its demands. So we shouldn't ignore those who have had a taste before. Also, the pitches so far this season have been very tough in some parts of the country, and there have been some outstanding performances under duress by some of the potential candidates.

Here are some of his competitors for a position in the Australian batting order, most likely Ponting's vacated number three slot.

Usman Khawaja, 25, Queensland

Tests: 6. 263 runs at 29.22

First-class average: 43.88

2012: 438 runs at 39.81

With the timing born of an innate sense of self-sabotage, Khawaja has just ruined a highly promising season with scores of 8 and 0 against New South Wales in a Shield match in Canberra. However, he had previously scored 430 other runs in his usual composed fashion for new state Queensland, and he made 138 on a Tasmanian minefield, an innings Bulls coach Darren Lehmann said was one of the best bad-wicket knocks he had ever seen.

Pros: Great technique, good consistency, looks to have the class to play at a higher level.

Cons: Perception that he doesn't work hard enough, and lacks killer instinct. Lack of really big hundreds after getting starts.


Rob Quiney, 30, Victoria

Tests: 2. Nine runs at 3.

First-class average: 36.48

2012: 173 runs at 24.71

An elite performer in shorter format cricket, Quiney has taken his four-day game to a new level in the past couple of seasons. He won the domestic player of the year award for his 938 runs at 49.36 in the Shield last season, and made 85 for Australia A against South Africa. A popular, hard-working team man, Quiney is a clean-striking upper-order batsman who can score quickly, and is not cowed by the fiercest fast bowling. It remains to be seen if his brief Test career so far is indicative of his ability at the highest level.

Pros: Good temperament, plenty of shot-making ability.

Cons: Comparatively low career average. Does he have the class for the top level?


Phil Hughes, 23, South Australia

Tests: 17. 1072 runs at 34.58

First-class average: 47.06

2012: 518 runs at 51.80

Unorthodox and attacking left-handed opener who stunned the cricket world with 415 runs in his first three Tests in South Africa, including tons in both innings in his second Test. His technical flaws were exposed by English seamers, and a second Test stint yielded an average of 16 from three matches. However, after a move to the batsman-friendly Adelaide Oval from New South Wales, Hughes has been the premier domestic player in all forms so far this summer, his latest outing being a match-shaping 158 on the MCG. Still possesses the best set of numbers, past and present, of the potential replacements. Though he has always been an opener, his mentors insist he can play anywhere in the order.

Pros: Test experience, weight of runs, a touch of magic – you don't flay Proteas attacks on their own pitches without possessing something special.

Cons: Concerns about his ability to handle the moving ball. Work ethic queries.


Alex Doolan, 27, Tasmania

Tests: nil

First-class average: 39.16

2012: 570 runs at 71.25

Composed right-hander who is at the peak of his powers, a masterful 168 not out against South Africa two months ago bringing his talents to attention. Averaging 58 in the Shield this season while playing on an often difficult Bellerive wicket, Doolan is delivering consistently after being criticised earlier in his career for not doing justice to the elegance of his style. Compact, well organised and a natural stroke-player, if he had a higher profile, he might be the frontrunner for the next batting vacancy, particularly as he is a specialist number three.

Pros: Form - he is on the upswing. Sound technique inspires hope of scope for further improvement.

Cons: Might need to sustain his purple patch a little longer given a career average below 40.


Callum Ferguson, 28, South Australia

Tests: nil

First-class average: 36.09

2012: 463 runs at 42.09

Ferguson appeared to have been anointed the next Australian middle-order project in 2008-09 after some encouraging performances for the national one-day team, when ODI form was rated above Shield form as a precursor to Test selection. An industrious right-hander with a solid technique, Ferguson suffered a serious knee injury in 2009, and has arguably struggled to regain his momentum ever since. However, he averaged 48 from four Shield games last season, and has performed strongly for the Redbacks this year, including a career-high 164 against Queensland.

Pros: International experience.

Cons: Lacks the average and number of centuries (8 from 65 matches) that is desirable in a Test player.

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