Melbourne:Ricky Ponting is almost certain to take his place in the Boxing Day Test after batting without any obvious discomfort in the nets at the MCG.
Ponting faced a bowling machine, throwdowns, and then a group of young net bowlers as he aimed to prove that he can lead Australia on Sunday, despite breaking the little finger on his left hand during the victory in Perth.
It will be a different challenge facing the likes of James Anderson and Chris Tremlett, but Ponting had little trouble against the net bowlers, pulling and driving without hindrance.
Usman Khawaja, the New South Wales batsman, was at training on Thursday but is not likely to be required, although Ponting's finger has not healed enough for him to field in the cordon during the Test.
"He said it felt pretty good after facing some balls on the machines and facing the bowlers," the vice-captain Michael Clarke said. "We're all hopeful and confident. Unless they cut his finger off, it's going to be really hard to leave Punter out. He's going to have to wait until tomorrow to see how it pulls up after having a bat today. But he's pretty happy with how things went today.
"Ricky definitely won't field in slips. He'll probably field at mid-off or mid-on. As long as you're pretty close to seeing the line which the bowlers are bowling, it's probably better for the bowlers that Punt's there to be able to talk to them as well. He has fielded there plenty of times in one-day cricket so I don't think it makes much difference."
Should anything happen to exacerbate Ponting's finger problem during the match, Clarke could find himself pulling the reins out in the middle as the team's vice-captain. He also looms as a potential second spinner if the selectors decide to keep their four-man pace attack with Steven Smith as the main slow-bowling option, ahead of Michael Beer.
"The ball's coming out of my hand okay as well," Clarke said. "I've been bowling pretty well in the nets. I've been fit to bowl in every Test. Having Steve Smith in the team gives them that option as well. Conditions will play the biggest part there, they'll wait and see what the wicket is like tomorrow, I would imagine."
Ponting and Clarke are the two members of Australia's top order that most need to lift for Boxing Day, with the team having relied heavily on Michael Hussey, Shane Watson and Brad Haddin during the series.
Clarke made 80 in the second innings in Adelaide, where he couldn't salvage a draw, and his other scores have been 9, 2, 4 and 20.
"It hasn't been great," Clarke said of his form. "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 hopefully there's some runs coming for Christmas this year for me."