India v Australia, 4th Test, Nagpur November 5, 2008

Ponting frets over bowling line-up

Ali Cook
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Stuart Clark has picked up only two wickets in the series © Getty Images
 

The toss has been so important in this series that in the lead-up to the deciding fourth Test the Australians practised their calling. It was a short, light-hearted exercise, like a game of two-up on Anzac Day, and at the end it was revealed that the coin was two-headed. After three guesses Ricky Ponting was one of two guys with a perfect record. He always calls heads, and is desperate for a change in luck on Thursday morning at the Vidarbha Cricket Association's new stadium.

Ponting has lost the past two tosses and quickly watched his team fall behind, and he does not need the bat-first-and-dominate theory to occur as they push to level the series and retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. "I went down and had a look at the wicket yesterday, it's rock hard like concrete and there's no grass on it," Ponting said.

"With no history to the wicket, we don't know if it's going to bounce, or stay low, or what it's going to do. One thing I know is that it is going to spin, it's so bare. Hopefully we win the toss."

While Ponting has no control over the fall of the coin, he is also uncertain as to what will happen in the morning when he walks out to the toss. Gautam Gambhir's appeal against a one-match suspension for elbowing Shane Watson in the third Test in Delhi was turned down by the ICC on Tuesday, but the Indian board has "rejected" the ruling.

"It's going to be an awkward situation for me to be put in tomorrow if I get out there for the toss and the guy that's been rubbed out has his name on the team sheet," Ponting said. "I need to be clear, and Cricket Australia needs to be clear, on that."

India, who lead the series 1-0, also have a new captain in Mahendra Singh Dhoni after the exit of the legspinner Anil Kumble on Sunday, while VVS Laxman is playing his 100th Test and Sourav Ganguly will join Kumble in retirement after the game. Ponting hoped all the off-field issues of his opponents would help his side.

"One thing it [the Gambhir decision] does do is create a bit of confusion around their team," Ponting said. "They'll obviously have a lot of distractions going on. For us, it's pretty plain sailing, we've just got to work out the best way to play in these conditions."

The decision over the final XI will be difficult, but it appears the offspinner Jason Krejza will make his debut. Australia have taken 14, 13 and 12 wickets over the first three games and it is the main reason they are in such an unfamiliar position.

"We've got to look at our overall balance," Ponting said. "If we're going to get Krejza into the side does he come in for White or one of our quicks? It's the big decision we've got to make.

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We didn't overdo sledging - Ponting
  • Skipper Ricky Ponting said he did not feel the Australians had over-stepped the mark in New Delhi.
  • "If that was the case then I'm sure we would have heard about that from the umpires as the day went on," he said. "The umpires are out there adjudicating on what they see and as we saw as the game went on, if anything happened between bowler and batsman they were pretty quick to get on to the captains. As far as I'm concerned, Chris Broad, the match referee, has made it very clear to the players there is an acceptable level of banter on the field and he's happy for that to be the case. I'm always happy for that to be the case because I think that's part and parcel of international sport."
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"Mitchell Johnson is our leading wicket-taker and Brett Lee got better and better in the last game. Stuart Clark did an excellent job for us, bowling his 30 overs for 50 or 60 in the first innings, and that is a pretty important role to play in a team over here if you've got guys that are striking at the other end."

Lee, Michael Clarke and Doug Bollinger were struggling with upset stomachs on Tuesday but are expected to be available for selection. Ponting has been impressed with Krejza, who he said had got better after going wicket-less and giving up 199 runs in a warm-up game before the first Test.

Whatever Australia decide, it will be a risk. If Krejza and White are used in tandem, or if Peter Siddle comes in for his second game, it will steal experience from the fast bowling unit, which has regularly faltered. It is an unenviable choice for such an important contest.

To add to Australia's problems, they know very little about the ground, which is being used for the first time. The squad went to the stadium outside of Nagpur on Wednesday afternoon for a short look at the conditions that will help determine whether they leave India with a prize.

"This is probably as big a Test match as a lot of us have played," Ponting said. "Being 1-0 down with a match to play is a position that a lot of us haven't been in before. We pride ourselves on playing well in big games and this is certainly a big game for us. There is a great opportunity for us to stand up and play better cricket than we've played in the first three Test matches."