Who will take Punter's spot?

Usman Khawaja is a top candidate to fill the gap left by Ricky Ponting.
Usman Khawaja is a top candidate to fill the gap left by Ricky Ponting.

While the make-up of Australia's pace attack for the third Test in Perth raised a number of questions, a bigger one was raised when Ricky Ponting announced his retirement – who would replace him?

Let's run the rule over some of the likely contenders.

Option 1: Phil Hughes (South Australia Redbacks)

Australia top six: Cowan, Hughes, Watson, Clarke, Hussey, Warner

The prolific Hughes has added the pull shot to his attacking armoury, ensuring short-pitched balls aimed at his ribs and throat can be countered. More importantly, he is staying more still at the crease, a vital characteristic for tracking the ball and shot selection. While the short left-hander will always be susceptible to lifting deliveries angled across his body, he certainly looks more assured now. As the leading run-getter in the Sheffield Shield with 518 runs at 51.8, he is in blistering form. His free-scoring style covers the shift of Warner to the sixth position and means the world-class Clarke moves up to fourth and gets greater time and opportunity in the middle. There is still some doubt over Warner's technique as an opener against the new ball but what can never be questioned is his ability to thump the leather off the ball. Imagine the damage he could do to the second new ball however, if he was already in and set on 50 or 60. Alternatively Warner could stay at the top with Hughes seeing Cowan shifted to third.

Option 2: Usman Khawaja (Queensland Bulls)

Australia top six: Cowan, Warner, Watson, Khawaja, Clarke, Hussey

Khawaja is the most technically-gifted of the candidates, a classy and elegant strokemaker with time as well as timing. He is compiling some solid Shield form since his move north to the Bulls (438 runs at 39.8) and he seems clear about what needs to be done to earn a recall. A ton against Tasmania on a dodgy deck and a couple of fifties against a near Test-strength NSW in front of skipper Clarke won't have harmed his chances. Like Hughes, he has already tasted Test cricket and with age on his side he could be a long-term option. Khawaja at fourth maintains the balance of the remaining top six.

Option 3: Rob Quiney (Victoria Bushrangers)

Australia top six: Cowan, Warner, Quiney, Watson, Clarke, Hussey

Quiney at third shifts Watson to fourth, a position that would suit the hulking allrounder given his onerous bowling duties. On Quiney, the affable Victorian didn't start his Test career on fire, but he has been blazing up the domestic scene, as his Domestic Player of the Year award at last season's AB Medal testifies. He is a free-scoring batsman with a calm and collected approach who offers some handy overs with his part-time medium pace. He would appear to be a safe bet given he was the last cab off the rank when Watson was injured, but whether he has dropped back to the end of the queue remains to be seen. What Quiney needs is a dominant Big Bash this month with the Melbourne Stars to keep his name up in lights to Inverarity and co.

Option 4: Alex Doolan (Tasmania Tigers)

Australia top six: Cowan, Warner, Doolan, Watson, Clarke, Hussey

Like the Quiney option, bringing in Doolan moves Watson to fourth. The Tasmanian has been accumulating runs for the Tigers over the last couple of seasons seemingly under the radar, but those who have been watching like what they see. He has an uncomplicated technique that allows him to score all around the ground, but he is particularly strong off his pads or when given width to cut. His Shield season to date is highly impressive (409 runs at 58.4) and a super knock against the South Africans for Australia A highlighted his form. Untried at the next level makes him an outsider but he has an excellent temperament and loves to spend time out in the middle.

Option 5: Glenn Maxwell (Victorian Bushrangers)

Australia top six: Cowan, Warner, Watson, Clarke, Hussey, Maxwell

Maxwell is a bit of a left-field punt but think about this. The National Selection Panel has already shown it likes him and his results in the shorter forms have caught the eye. The versatile Victorian is a clean striker of the ball, a powerful slugger that is completely fearless, making him a dangerous prospect for the opposition. His fielding is outstanding and his off-spin has improved to the point he could hold down an end. What this option provides is the chance for Australia to play four quicks, meaning Nathan Lyon would miss out. Some observers thought Lyon was lucky to get a start in this series but his results have been strong and his fledgling career has been steady. Therefore this is a long shot, but don't discount it.

This story Who will take Punter's spot? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.