Ponting on course for Boxing Day Test
Australia captain Ricky Ponting today came through his scheduled net session as he bids to prove his fitness for the fourth Ashes Test at the MCG following a broken finger.
The 36-year-old did not appear to suffer any ill effects after spending around half an hour batting against the bowling machine and also taking some throw-downs.
He did not, however, face any of his team-mates bowling at full pace.
Ponting suffered the fracture during his side's series-levelling win in Perth, when he parried a catch from second slip to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin to dismiss England's Jonathan Trott late on day three.
The uncapped Usman Khawaja was added to the squad for Melbourne as cover.
Vice-captain Michael Clarke revealed Ponting remains confident he will be able to play on Boxing Day - but will still have to wait until tomorrow to see how his injury progresses.
"I spoke to him briefly when I was batting beside him and he said he felt pretty good after facing some balls on the machine and from (net) bowlers," Clarke said.
"We are all very hopeful and pretty confident that, unless they cut his finger off, it is going to be really hard to leave Punter out.
"I think he is going to have to wait until tomorrow to see how it pulls up after having a bat today, but he is pretty happy with how things went."
Ponting today wrote in his column for The Australian newspaper that he would be "very surprised" if cannot play on Boxing Day.
"If there is ever a Test match you want to play, it's Boxing Day in Melbourne, so I have been doubly determined to make sure I'm fit after suffering a broken little finger in Perth," he wrote.
"I'm confident I'll be there playing in front of what we all hope will be a world-record crowd of 91,000 or more at the MCG, because it doesn't get much bigger than this.
"The prognosis has been positive and I fielded yesterday without discomfort.
"I will bat today and Christmas Day in the nets and see how it pulls up, but I will be very surprised if I'm not out in the middle tossing the coin with Andrew Strauss."
Should Ponting play, he will have to move out of the firing line in the slip cordon, and will deploy himself next to the bowler.
"Ricky definitely won't field in the slips. He'll probably field at mid-off or mid-on," Clarke said.
"But as long as you're pretty close to seeing the line the bowlers are bowling, it's probably better for the bowlers that Punt's there to be able to talk to them as well."
Ponting needs to arrest a dip in form soon, having made only 22 runs in four innings since an unbeaten half-century in the drawn first Test in Brisbane.
Clarke has fared a little better but nowhere near as well as he and his country would wish.
"It hasn't been great," he admitted. "I thought I batted pretty well in the second innings in Adelaide. I made 80-odd, which is nice.
"I was disappointed to get out in the last over of the day there. I felt very good in the second innings in Perth as well.
"I feel like I'm doing all the work. I feel like I'm training hard and hope there are some runs coming for me for Christmas this year.
"I certainly don't feel like I'm out of form. I feel like I'm hitting them pretty well - I just haven't got a big score yet.
"I feel like I'm doing all the right things. It's just a matter now of getting that result."
There is no better place for an Australian batsman to return to his best than this occasion, in front of an expected 90,000-plus sell-out crowd.
"The Boxing Day Test is always very special," Clarke added. "Everyone is pretty excited, and probably a bit more excited after winning in Perth as well."
Clarke expects James Anderson, who suffered a sore side in Perth, to play at the MCG.
"I think they'll miss Anderson if he's not fit, no doubt,” he said. "It'll definitely be harder for their attack.
“On a big stage, a very important Test match, to lose such a big player, it would definitely put a dent in their team. But I'm very confident that Anderson will be fit to play."
Of England's other fit seamers, Clarke has been impressed by the two tall men - Finn and Chris Tremlett, both towering close to 6ft 8in.
"Tremlett did really well, grabbing his opportunity in Perth, and Finn has done well in this series too," he added.
"Anderson is probably the leader of their attack, the most experienced, but I think they've all got a big part to play.
"(Graeme) Swann is a very good spin bowler and will definitely play a part on day four and day five at least, on this wicket."