Ricky Ponting, the Australia captain, tested out his broken finger during fielding and throwing drills yesterday and said he was hopeful of playing "pain-free" in the fourth Ashes Test against England.
Ponting broke his little finger during a catch attempt in the slips in the third Test in Perth and did not take the field on the fourth and final day as Australia completed a 267-run victory to level the five-Test series at 1-1.
The 36-year-old captain appeared to have little difficulty during the fielding session at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, but elected not to take the crease in the nets.
Ponting has endured a poor series with the bat, with just 83 runs at an average of 16.60, 51 of those as Australia batted out the first Test for a draw in Brisbane.
"The finger is good actually," he said. "I joined in and did a fair bit of fielding at training this morning, I didn't have a bat today but I'll jump into the nets tomorrow."
"So I think, as I said after the Perth game, I've a really good chance of playing in this Test match and hopefully I'll be able to play pain-free, which will be nice."
Amid a form slump by Michael Clarke, the vice-captain, Brad Haddin, the Australian wicketkeeper, has his name broached as a possible successor to Ponting as captain. He said Ponting's participation at the Melbourne Test starting on Sunday was "very important".
"Obviously he's our leader and we get a lot of inspiration from him and he's been a great leader for Australia with this group of players," Haddin said. "You just have to see the turnaround we had from Adelaide to Perth to see the effect he has on the cricket team.
"At this stage the finger is recovering well. The signs are all good at this stage."
The uncapped Usman Khawaja, 24, a Pakistan-born top-order batsman, has been named as stand-by for the Boxing Day Test if Ponting fails to prove his fitness.