Australia chief upbeat over Ponting fitness

Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland expects Ricky Ponting to play in the fourth Ashes Test - and is confident the captain will step out in front of a world-record crowd of 91,000 at the MCG on Boxing Day.

Ponting fractured a little finger in the emphatic third Test win over England in Perth but, despite the selectors adding Usman Khawaja to the squad as cover today, Sutherland remains convinced the Tasmanian will be fit to lead the home side.



He said: "You'd need something pretty significant to keep Ricky Ponting out of it.



"He would himself admit that he learnt a little bit about himself and carrying injuries into the last Boxing Day Test match.



"I think this finger injury is something different. It will obviously be monitored and managed and treated accordingly, but I'd be very surprised from here if he wasn't fit to play."



National selection panel chairman Andrew Hilditch explained the call-up of Khawaja was only precautionary at this stage.



"While the NSP are confident Ricky Ponting will be available for the Boxing Day Test, through an abundance of caution we have named Usman Khawaja as the standby player," he said.



"Usman richly deserves this opportunity following his excellent form at domestic level last season and continuing on this season."



The uncapped Khawaja has been in outstanding form in this season's Sheffield Shield, leading the run-scoring charts with 598 at an average of 74.75.



And the Pakistan-born left-hander insists he is ready if called upon by his adopted country to replace Ponting.



"I've said this before - I think I was ready when I was six years old," he said. "I think everyone's ready to play for Australia."



Sutherland admitted "the cricket gods are smiling on us all" after the win at the WACA, with the criticism which accompanied the performances in the opening two matches rapidly replaced by a wave of optimism.



And that is likely to result in a bumper crowd at the most iconic venue in Australian sport. There is even a chance the previous best Test crowd of 90,800 set at the MCG in February 1961 during the fifth Test against the West Indies will be eclipsed.



"We've got a fantastic set-up for the Boxing Day Test match - 1-1 with two matches to play," added Sutherland.



"I did for a moment think that there was a possibility that we would come into this and the Ashes would already be decided.



"We're really excited and thrilled to see the boys turn on the form they put on in Perth and now we've got nothing but a great Test match to look forward to.



"Not only on the field but it would appear off the field that we're on target to make history with the Boxing Day Test match looking like a close to capacity crowd at the MCG on day one on Sunday, hopefully breaking the world record for the highest-ever attendance at a single day of Test cricket.



"We know that there'll be twice as many English visitors coming to this game. There's a whole influx of Barmy Army supporters coming in for this Test match.



"We're really throwing out the challenge to Australian cricket to fans who come along to wear their colours but also to make a lot of noise to get behind our team."

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