Australia captain Ricky Ponting declared himself fit for the all-important fourth Ashes Test after a strong training session on Saturday, saying it could be the match of his career.
Ponting broke the little finger of his left hand while attempting a slips catch during Australia’s series-levelling win in Perth last weekend, putting him in doubt for the must-win Melbourne Test.
But the 36-year-old skipper said his injury was on the mend and he was all but certain of taking the pitch on Sunday, expressing surprise at how well he had been able to train.
“I’ve batted a lot in the last two days and I took part in all the fielding stuff out there and just made sure I caught a few balls, just to get used to the feeling of it,” Ponting said after three hours’ training at the MCG, the first compulsory Christmas Day session in his career.
“Something pretty strange is going to have to happen today for me not to play tomorrow.”
Ponting said he would not take his usual spot at second slip but would “find somewhere where I can keep myself in the game”, likely mid-off. His fitness means uncapped understudy Usman Khawaja is not likely to be required.
Vice-captain Michael Clarke said the mood in the Australian camp was upbeat ahead of the Test.
“We’re all hopeful and confident. Unless they cut his finger off, it’s going to be really hard to leave Punter [Ponting] out.”
Australia have yet to name their squad for the much-hyped Melbourne Test, which they must win to remain in the series and which is expected to attract a record crowd of 91 000.
“We haven’t finalised the 11 yet. We’ll wait until the morning to see, one, what the weather’s like and, two, if the wicket changes at all,” said Ponting.
“It looks like it has got a bit of moisture in it again today from yesterday. It’s a bit different than it was yesterday afternoon.”
The veteran captain is under pressure to perform in the fourth Test, which he admitted could be the biggest match of his career.
“If we lose, probably yes,” said Ponting, when asked about the showdown. “If we win, no one will probably talk about it.”
“We understand where the series is at and we know what we have to do to play well and hopefully we can do it again,” he added.
“We set ourselves new standards as far as Test cricket is concerned and we have to maintain those for the next couple of weeks,” he added.
Ponting has a record of 1 186 runs at 62.42 in 13 matches at the MCG and has made four hundreds at the southern ground, though he has gone nine matches this year without a ton.
“It has been a little while between drinks as far as making hundreds is concerned. I know I have to start scoring heavily,” said the right-hander.
“Not just for me but for the team.”
England are expected to name an unchanged side after captain Andrew Strauss said fast bowler James Anderson had overcome a side strain.
“He had a bit of a niggle but he seems to have got over that. He’s 100% fit and available for selection,” said Strauss.
The England skipper said he was “very confident” his side could bounce back from their 267-run drubbing in Perth.
“I can’t think of anything better than to come over to Australia and win the Boxing Day Test. That would be a very good feather in all our caps,” said Strauss. – AFP