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Australia's youngsters keen to get going

Ricky Ponting's men arguably have the most gentle start to the tournament, taking on the under strength West Indies in their first match

Callum Ferguson speaks to the media, Adelaide, February 9, 2009

Callum Ferguson said the Champions Trophy is the "hugest" event of his career so far  •  Getty Images

There's something entirely innocent about eating ice cream. It's the novelty of being able to enjoy something as simple as flavoured, frozen milk even when one is well into one's twenties, or thirties, or even forties. It's the thought of doing something a little naughty, in as many as fifteen flavours, even though it tastes so good. That's exactly what Ricky Ponting looked like as he strolled through the Sandton hotel with Michael Clarke and a cup of ice cream.
He looked every bit like a man who had just come off a 6-1 series victory and nothing in his manner suggested he was a captain about to embark on a quest to win another ICC trophy. Australia may be the defending champions but they've slipped under the radar quietly as India, South Africa and Sri Lanka have stormed into the spotlight as favourites.
Ricky Ponting's men arguably have the most gentle start to the tournament, taking on the under strength West Indies in their first match. The men from the Carribbean are tipped to be the tournament's whipping boys and have already lost their first encounter to Pakistan. That's doesn't mean Australia are going to take their opponents lightly and Ponting said "West Indies will get the respect they deserve" from them.
Even though Ponting is not taking this match any more seriously than he would any other, it may be his best opportunity to blood some younger players in a major tournament. Callum Ferguson is one of the fresh faces who says he is "jumping out of his skin" to take to the field. Ferguson made his debut for Australia in February, has played against New Zealand and England, and describes the Champions Trophy as "the hugest" event of his career thus far. He said that a lot of young players in the team see the set up as very different to what it was a few years ago, when the team was made up of "mostly senior guys." Ferguson believes the team is going through an interesting, transitional phase where "there is a lot of opportunity for younger players."
The young players may well have to carry the mantle in the team's first encounter because two of the more established members of the side have been ruled out. Nathan Bracken has had to make the trip back to Australia and Michael Clarke has also been ruled out of the match with back pain. Despite the loss of those key players, though, the West Indies captain Floyd Reifer still believes Australia are the "team to beat" in the tournament.
"They are still one of the best sides in world cricket and playing against them gives our players an opportunity to come up against some of the greats," Reifer said. He is not overly talkative about the team's prospects but says they wouldn't want to write off a semi -final chance. "Every game is important and we realise we have to win at least two matches to have a chance of making it into the semi-finals, so that's what we're going to try and do."
West Indies have Kemar Roach available for selection, which will add some firepower to their bowling. Roach was suffering from a minor ankle injury but has been cleared to play. Together with Gavin Tonge, who took four for 25 against Pakistan, they may have something to scare the Australian batsmen with.
Reifer believes the bowling may be his team's biggest strength going into the match. "Against Pakistan, there was a stage where we had them at 76 for 5. If we can do that again and then continue picking off wickets, we will do well." He also says the team's first-match anxiety is out of the way and they can get on with playing properly. "We may have been a bit nervous going into that first encounter but we're ready for this match and we've prepared well."
Even though West Indies' demeanour at their training session at the university grounds didn't look all that convincing, as most of them mulled around while a few others had nets, they refuse to be seen as the sitting ducks of the tournament. Reifer is adamant that they are "not scared" of facing Australia. Who knows? Maybe they'll be enjoying ice cream after the encounter as well.

Firdose Moonda is a freelance writer based in Johannesburg