Ponting confident of playing in 4th test

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The Independent Online

Ricky Ponting's broken finger is healing well and he should be able to play in the fourth Ashes test against England in Melbourne, the Australian captain told reporters on Saturday.

Ponting's participation has been in doubt since he broke the little finger on his left hand in a catch attempt during the third test in Perth.

"The finger is good," said Ponting after Australia's final practice session at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. "I'm actually pretty surprised how I've been able to train the last couple of days.

"Something pretty strange is going to have to happen today for me not to play tomorrow."

The five-test series is level at 1-1 going into the fourth test at the MCG starting on Sunday.

Ponting batted with his broken finger in the nets on Saturday for the second consecutive day as players completed a light training session before the Boxing Day test.

One of Australia's best fielders, Ponting will relinquish his usual place in the slips and is expected to stand at mid-on or mid-off.

Australia have delayed naming their side until the morning of the test as they wait to see how the wicket turns out.

"We'll do that in the morning and see one, what the weather is like, and two, if the wicket changes at all," said Ponting, who turned 36 as Australia completed an emphatic 267-run win over England in Perth to level the series.

"It looks like it's got a bit of moisture in it today from yesterday. It's a bit different from what it was yesterday afternoon, so we just want to make sure we've got our bases covered."

The MCG traditionally delivers slow and batsman-friendly tracks that offer turn for spinners late in the test as they wear, placing Australia in a selection quandary.

The hosts will be reluctant to break up the four-prong pace attack that skittled England cheaply in both innings at Perth's WACA ground, but have not won a test at the MCG without playing a specialist spinner in decades.

Should Australia opt to drop one of their quicks the burden would fall on unproven left-armer Michael Beer, 26, who would make his debut with only a handful of first-class matches to his name and an average of around 40.

"This wicket no doubt early in the game is going to offer some assistance to the seam bowlers and swing bowlers as well, but how long that lasts is the query," Ponting said.

"Are you going to need a spinner on day four and day five? They're the things you have to work out."

Beer carried the drinks at the WACA but has been retained in a 12-man squad for Melbourne.

Ponting suggested that the wicket might favour the attacking side early, bringing the coin toss into play.

"If the wicket starts a little bit moist and it's a bit overcast like it's supposed to be, it's going to be pretty hard work for the batting team," Ponting said.

With interest in both countries reaching fever pitch, officials have talked up the possibility of a world record crowd cramming into the 100,000-capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground for the first day's play on Sunday.

"With that amount of people coming to watch the game, there's no doubt the nerves from players in both teams are going to be pretty high," said Ponting, agreeing that the atmosphere could be intimidating for the England team.

"I don't think there's any doubt about that, yeah," he said.

"There will probably be 20 or 30 Barmy Army supporters here - thousand that is," he joked.

"I'd like to think that this is one venue where they might be get drowned out a little bit.

"No doubt we'll get great support and there might even be the odd boo going toward the England players this week and not just me all the time."