Ponting excited by vibrancy of Australian youth

Tourists' captain says he is confident his hungry young side can take home the urn

Losing half a team – virtually half a World XI, really – would have finished a few captains. In Ricky Ponting's case, though, waving farewell to five household names and ushering in a handful of raw new recruits has had exactly the opposite effect. He could go on and on, it seems, especially if the men under his command develop into another band of world-beaters.

It would be silly to suggest that Ponting was glad to be rid of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden. Indeed, if one or two of them pitch up to Sophia Gardens early enough this morning they could find themselves hauled out of retirement. But there is no doubt that leading an emerging side has given Australia's 34-year-old captain a real lift towards the end of his career.

Surround yourself with the young and the keen: that is sound advice for anyone when the clock starts ticking quicker than ever. Ponting, of course, had no choice in the matter but, despite many a prediction of doom and gloom, he still finds himself captain of the top-ranked team in Test cricket. And the excitement of trying to keep it that way, by retaining the Ashes, shines from his eyes.

"I'm as excited for this series as I've been for any series I've ever played in, and that says a lot about where I'm at and where this current team is at," said the feisty little Tasmanian. "I know we are in really good shape as a group and looking forward to the challenge ahead of us."

Six months ago, that challenge looked too tall for a team of mortals, rather than one of super-heroes. Australia had lost in India and then, soon after, lost at home to South Africa. They were on the slide. Oh yeah? A 2-1 win in South Africa put that theory on hold and showed that players like Phil Hughes, Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle were perfectly capable of doing justice to the Baggy Green.

"There's no doubt there is a lot of hunger around the group to build on things which we felt we started in South Africa where our standards of play were very high," said Ponting on the eve of his fourth Ashes series in England. "Winning in South Africa, with young players, was one of the most satisfying moments of my career.

"Coming into this Test the desire to do well for yourself and for your mates is as good as I've ever seen it around the group and that's an exciting thing for me. Hopefully through the next couple of months you are going to see some things that will surprise you about our team. I know what all these guys are capable of and I want to see some things from them that everyone is going to be amazed about."

Ponting has ticked almost every box in Test cricket. But he was also the Australian captain who lost the Ashes in England in 2005 so putting that record straight must be a motivating factor – even if he plays it down.

"It would be great to win – it would be great for everyone to have our hands on the urn. If we are good enough, we are good enough and I've got a really good feeling we are going to be good enough."

First Test: Probable teams

England

AJ Strauss (capt)

AN Cook

RS Bopara

KP Pietersen

PD Collingwood

MJ Prior (wkt)

A Flintoff

SC J Broad

GP Swann

JM Anderson

MS Panesar



Australia

PJ Hughes

SM Katich

RT Ponting (capt)

ME K Hussey

MJ Clarke

MJ North

BJ Haddin (wkt)

MG Johnson

PM Siddle

SR Clark

BW Hilfenhaus

Umpires: Aleem Dar & Billy Doctrove

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