Ponting banks on new-age fielding
Ricky Ponting leads the brave outlook and wants to use his fresh talent to wear down India's veterans, so they are the ones wilting instead of Australia's new faces. To counter the problem that only Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke and Simon Katich have played a Test in India, the captain is demanding new-age fielding for his new-look side. He wants youthful enthusiasm - five players in the 12 are in their 20s, which is young by Australia's recent standards - to override experience.
Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman are coming towards the end of their careers and Ponting hopes to exploit any creak in their bodies and fatigue in their minds. "I really think we can take them on in the field, almost a new-age type of Test cricket that can make a few of their guys look a bit old and a bit slow," he said. Ponting spoke to the team on Tuesday and pushed the point along with the need for sharp running between wickets.
"We can create pressure on them with our intensity in the field at different times, and make them look past their use-by date," he said. "That's what we're trying to achieve, to put their older guys under immense pressure. We know if we do that, and make little things stand out, their whole media over here will just jump on them, especially if they lose an early game."
The total fielding concept has been developed under the assistant coach Mike Young, a former baseball mentor, and Australia will have to be on fire to make up for their other deficiencies. Spin bowling is the main problem - Cameron White and Jason Krejza are fighting for the final spot in the XI - and a new combination is being tried in the middle order following Andrew Symonds' suspension.
Shane Watson will bat at No. 6 in his fourth Test - his first for three years - and will enter ahead of Brad Haddin and White, if he is preferred for his superior run-making skills. Michael Clarke has had a stomach bug this week but trained on Wednesday and will take his place, which is a big boost for the side as it needs his multi-purpose skills.
Another concern for Australia is that none of their fast men have appeared in a Test in India. Brett Lee will lead the attack, with Stuart Clark and Mitchell Johnson as support, and Ponting has faith in the combination.
"Our spinners are young and inexperienced at Test level, but if you look at our fast bowlers, those guys are very skilled and talented," Ponting said. "There's no reason why our fast bowlers alone can't win us this Test series."
In 2004 Australia relied heavily on Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Jason Gillespie with the ball and Damien Martyn with the bat. Ponting expects the next rung of representatives to step up in this series.
"There are a number of challenges for me as captain," he said. "I need to look at different ways and call on different guys at different times to get similar jobs done to the ones McGrath and Warne and those guys were doing for us.
"Anyone who plays for Australia is capable of getting any job done. I expect that when I ask Mitchell Johnson or Stuart Clark or Brad Haddin to do a certain job for me or the team, they're good enough to get it done."
He will also require a lot more output from himself. India is the only place Ponting has not conquered and it is something he is determined to fix. In eight Tests here he has managed 172 runs, including only 17 in the 2001 series when his nightmare with Harbhajan Singh began.
"For me it's just a matter of trusting myself," he said. "The series here in 2001, the really bad series, was because I didn't trust my technique and was trying to find a way in every innings to combat mainly Harbhajan.
"I've learned a lot and come a long way as a player since then. Only this place in the world has got me." If it happens again Australia's hopes of retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy might be impossible.