Perth: Australia are in the midst of a form crisis but captain Ricky Ponting is to be rested for the next three one-dayers against New Zealand, as selectors take stock of the horrendous schedule awaiting the team in the coming year.
While Australia are clearly struggling on the field and would prefer to have Ponting leading the troops, officials are concerned that he has not had a break since the tour of India that started last September.
Ponting and Michael Hussey are the only ones to have played every match since India and with a taxing tour of South Africa to come immediately following the five ODIs and Twenty20 match against New Zealand, both will be given time out.
The team flies to South Africa the day after the final match against the Black Caps, a Twenty20 in Sydney on February 15.
While this is hardly an ideal time for Ponting to leave the playing group, selectors are looking at the long-term interests of the player and the team. As captain, the 34-year-old holds much heavier commitments than his colleagues with regular internal team meetings, media interviews and sponsorship gigs.
Australia expect to play a series against Pakistan at a neutral venue immediately after the South African tour. They will then have about 10 days to rest before flying to England for a monstrous program of nearly four months that starts with the Twenty20 World Cup, the Ashes series, seven ODIs against Andrew Strauss's team and one ODI against Scotland.