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Ponting on the edge

SYDNEY, Australia, March 23- Australian skipper Ricky Ponting's future has been thrown into doubt with a report claiming he is set to quit while the Australian Cricketers' Association slammed talk he could be axed as "gutless."His captaincy was called into question on Tuesday when an unnamed Cricket Australia official told the Sydney Morning Herald there was stiff opposition at boardroom level to him staying in the job.

The official, however, stressed that his position as a player was not in jeopardy.

But Britain’s Daily Mail on Wednesday reported that Ponting plans to retire from international cricket altogether at the end of World Cup in India and finish his career at an English county.

"Sportsmail has learnt that the Australia captain, aiming to lead his side to a fourth World Cup triumph, is fed up trying to prove he should carry on into his 38th year," the paper said on its website.

"Ponting, Australia’s most successful skipper, plans to bow out by lifting the World Cup a week on Saturday, but has been forced to admit that he will have to quit before he is fired by Cricket Australia.

"He will resign if his side are defeated by India in Thursday’s quarter-final in Ahmedabad or when their quest for the biggest honour in one-day cricket is over," it added.

Earlier, Australian Cricketers’ Association chief Paul Marsh lashed out at talk that Ponting could be axed.

He was not impressed with the anonymous comments, particularly coming on the eve of their crucial quarter-final in Ahmedabad on Thursday.

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"Firstly, if a senior official is going to make such inflammatory comments about our national captain, and one of this country’s greatest-ever players, how about having the guts to at least put your name to them," he told the Herald.

"Secondly, the team is days away from one of its biggest games in recent memory and now they have to deal with the speculation and discussion surrounding these irresponsible comments.

"I’ve been scratching my head all day trying to work out why someone associated with CA would make these comments two days before a World Cup quarter-final."

Ponting, who has been captain for nine years, was under pressure even before the World Cup, having earned the dubious distinction of becoming the only Australian skipper to fail to win the Ashes three times.

He has done himself no favours in India, taking a reprimand from the International Cricket Council after smashing a dressing-room TV in a fit of fury after being run out during Australia’s win over Zimbabwe.

He was also criticised for angrily throwing the ball to the ground after colliding with teammate Steven Smith during their victory over Canada, and for failing to walk in Saturday’s defeat to Pakistan.

But the team have rallied round the star batsman.

"From my point of view he’s the best man for the job, and has been our leader for a long time. He’s certainly got the full support of all the team. We love having him as our captain," said Michael Hussey.

Michael Clarke, who led Australia to an emphatic 6-1 one-day series victory over England after the Ashes reverse, is reportedly favourite to replace Ponting as captain.

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