No let-up from Ponting
Australia captain Ricky Ponting insists he has not lost the competitive edge and will have no problems firing himself up for the Ashes, which get underway at Cardiff next week.
The tourists are preparing for their final warm-up game against England Lions at Worcester starting on Wednesday and the 34-year-old Ponting, who is on his fourth Ashes tour of England, can’t wait to get out on to the pitch.
He said: "I’ve not mellowed as a competitor or a cricketer. I hope I’m as competitive as I’ve ever been on the field.
"I am as competitive as ever. I am loving the game as much as ever and I am involved in a really youthful group of blokes who are a joy to be around.
"We’ve just come off a really good win in South Africa. The feeling in the group was terrific and it has been over here these last couple of weeks.
"To me, this is as exciting as it gets, to be captain of Australia in England in an Ashes series with a new fresh group of players.
"I don’t think you will see anything different from me come the first day at Cardiff."
Former England captain Michael Vaughan has decided to quit at the age of 34 after a disappointing start to the domestic season with Yorkshire and concerns over his long-term knee problem.
And Ponting claims that calling it a day is something that hasn’t even crossed his mind: "I’ve never thought about that. While the enjoyment is there, while I can add to what the team is trying to do, and I can improve as an individual, then that will determine how long I play.
"If I ever turn up to a game or a training day and feel I can’t improve myself, then I will start thinking about when the end might be.
"But I’ve never considered what might be an end date because I am enjoying the game as much as ever and want to keep contributing and be the best player I can be for the team."
Ponting is aware Australia have to improve on their performance against Sussex at Hove last week against a Lions side led by Ian Bell and including Steve Harmison.
He said: "It is a big step for us from last week, there is no doubt about that. Although the Sussex game was a really good hit-out for us, we need to lift our cricket to another level.
"This week we will be up against much better and much stronger opposition than last week and for us, with it being the last game before the Test, the intensity needs to lift up a little bit.
"Hopefully we can get the result we are after and the batters and bowlers can get some good quality time out in the middle and make sure we get what we can from this game and are ready to go at Cardiff.
"It is good to have this calibre of opposition as our last game. You look at their bowling attack and their quicks have all played international cricket.
"It will be really good preparation for us but, on the flip side of that, it gives those guys a really good chance to impress the England selectors as well so all in all it should be a really good game of cricket."
Spinner Nathan Hauritz will be given another chance to stake a claim to play at Cardiff after failing to impress against Sussex but paceman Peter Siddle is rested.
Meanwhile, all-rounder Shane Watson’s hopes of returning to action after a thigh problem were held up by the rain at New Road on Tuesday.
Ponting said: "He was going to bat until it started to rain. Unfortunately he hasn’t been able to get in the nets. The whole plan was for him to bat today.
"He’s not playing in the game but he seems to be coming on well enough to get into the nets so that is a good sign for us.
"How far is he from bowling? I don’t know. I can’t answer that. Obviously today was his first step of getting back into some cricket on the batting side of things."