Ponting issues challenge to Australia

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The Independent Online

Australia captain Ricky Ponting has challenged his fledgling attack to write their names into Ashes folklore in the absence of injured paceman Brett Lee.

Preparations for tomorrow's npower series opener in Cardiff were rocked only hours before the toss when it was confirmed Lee had damaged an abdominal muscle in his left side and would in all likelihood be out until the third Test.

Lee, 32, only recently returned to action after undergoing foot and ankle surgery following the 2008 Boxing Day Test defeat against South Africa.

But, as they did on the tour of South Africa earlier this year, the Australians' other pacemen must provide the firepower if they are to set up series victory.

"Reputations and legend are generally made out of these bigger series and there is no bigger series than an Ashes series to do that," said Ponting.

"One good initiative we have had since we have been here is during every game day or training day, one or two guys have been telling us what an Ashes series means to them, and what it means to be a part of it.

"Hearing them say some of the things they have said makes me think they really want to forge their own identities and make an impact in this series."

Lee admitted he felt duty-bound to get his niggle checked out because of the magnitude of the series, hinting that he might have played on in other circumstances after a six-month absence from the Test team.

The tour matches against Sussex and England Lions were his first outings outside of Twenty20 action this year, and his six first-innings wickets in Worcester last week appeared to have cemented his return to international action.

"The work he did last week was pretty impressive as everybody saw," said Ponting, referring to Lee's reverse swing masterclass against England's A side.

"So the thinking caps will have to go on and we will have to work out what the best XI will be in these conditions down here. "We have got more than capable guys to step into that void."

New-ball pair Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle enhanced their standings with solid performances in the 2-1 win over Graeme Smith's Proteas earlier this year and they will be joined by Stuart Clark, another bowler back after a lengthy injury absence.

The wet weather in south Wales could yet see that trio joined by another quick in Ben Hilfenhaus, rather than spinner Nathan Hauritz, who has struggled on the tour to date.

"If it rains more then you would have to think about that, with the wicket being under cover for a couple of days," Ponting confirmed.

Whichever XI they field at the start of their bid to retain the famous urn, however, Ponting feels his camp is better prepared than four years ago when England famously halted a 16-year period of Australian dominance.

Most of the pre-series talk has revolved around that incredible 2005 summer rather than the revenge whitewashing in 2006-07, something which has not been lost on Ponting.

"All the talk since we have been here has been about 2005," Ponting said. "Which is about 50 Test matches ago.

"It has been a long time between then and now. You can understand from their point of view they will want to replicate everything that happened and they did in 2005.

"But I think we are a better team as a result of that series, and better prepared than we were then.

"If you look at our overall squad, we have got really good balance, not just in one certain area but right the way through.

"Our fast-bowling attack - all five of the guys feel as though they should be in the team - is a real positive for us.

"We have flexibility as well in that all of the bowlers are very different in what they do and what skills they have.

"We have got a good blend of experience and youth in our batting as well.

"I think those things puts us slightly ahead of whatever England have got."