NAGPUR // The Australia captain Ricky Ponting hopes to exploit a distracted Indian team in the must-win fourth Test following the International Cricket Council's (ICC) decision to uphold opener Gautam Gambhir's one-match ban. Ponting remains uncertain whether the suspension of Gambhir, who elbowed Australian Shane Watson in the chest while attempting a run during the drawn third Test in New Delhi, will actually translate into the batsman not appearing in the series-deciding contest.
"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." The hosts, who lead the series 1-0 after battling to save a draw in the first Test and producing an emphatic 320-run win in the second, also have a new captain in Mahendra Singh Dhoni after the retirement of the leg-spinner Anil Kumble on Sunday.
Batsman VVS Laxman is playing his 100th Test and ex-skipper Sourav Ganguly will join Kumble in retirement after the game. "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." India had hoped Gambhir's appeal would be heard after the Test had started - allowing him to play - but the ICC-appointed judge Albie Sachs, from South Africa, on Tuesday announced a verdict upholding the original one-match suspension.
Australia's preparations for the come-from-behind victory they needed to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy has also been disrupted with Brett Lee, Michael Clarke and Doug Bollinger missing training because of stomach problems on Tuesday. All were expected to be available for selection. Ponting will also have to decide whether to pick the spin pairing of Cameron White and rookie Jason Krejza or bring Krejza in alongside pacemen Lee, Stuart Clark and Mitchell Johnson.
Australia have been unable to dismiss India twice in any match over the past month, which has hindered their chances of victory. "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." The Test will be the first at the Vidarbha Cricket Association's new stadium - the ground only received final approval as an international venue yesterday when it was inspected by the match referee Chris Broad.
"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." Another concern for India is the form of No 3 batsman Rahul Dravid, who has scored just 265 runs in his past six Tests.
Dravid, who has struggled since posting 51 in the opening game, is the only local batsman who has not fired against the tourists during the contest. Kumble's spot will be taken by the off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who has recovered from a toe injury which ruled him out of the previous match. Harbhajan needs one more wicket to become just the third Indian bowler, behind Kumble and Kapil Dev, to take 300 Test wickets.
Lineups: India (likely): Virender Sehwag, Murali Vijay, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V. V. S Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra. Australia (probable): Matthew Hayden, Simon Katich, Ricky Ponting (captain), Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin, Jason Krejza, Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Stuart Clark. * AP