BRISBANE (Reuters) - Michael Clarke was declared fit on Wednesday to play in the first bout of what promises to be a titanic Ashes tussle as Australia finally caught a break on the eve of the start of the five-test series against England.
Badly hit by injuries and form slumps, Australia named a bumper 17-strong squad nine days ago, then a slimmed down 13-man version at the weekend before being forced to supplement that with Usman Khawaja as cover for the injured Clarke.
So it was doubtless with some relief that skipper Ricky Ponting was able to announce a starting XI for the first test, which starts on Thursday.
"We have got a team," Ponting told a news conference. "Doug Bollinger and Usman Khawaja are the two who are not playing.
"Michael Clarke's got through his work particularly well in the last few days, had a long, solid session in the nets today so he's come through pretty well and Dougie's the unlucky quick who misses out."
Clarke had been suffering from a recurrence of a back problem that has dogged him for much of his career and missed training on Monday.
The return of his vice captain and anointed successor -- not to mention a top order batsman with 64 tests and 4,549 runs to his name -- will be a huge boost to Ponting as he looks to take the fight to England.
"We've done enough talking, enough training, enough preparation, it's game time and we're all excited about that," said the 35-year-old, who is keen to avoid the ignominy of being the first Australia captain to lose three Ashes series.
England, who are defending the Ashes, will not reveal their line-up until Thursday morning but it unlikely to hold any surprises after the tourists' smooth run-up to the first test.
The benefits of such good preparations can be undone in just a session or two of the opening day, of course, but Strauss is confident his team have what it takes to clinch England's first Ashes victory in Australia for 24 years.
"We understand the size of the challenge ahead of us, but we couldn't be in a better place mentally to take on that challenge," he said.
"It's going to take a lot of good cricket ... guys are going to have to dig pretty deep. But I'm fully confident we have the players to do it."
The first test starts at the Gabba, where Australia are unbeaten since 1988, at 10:00 local time (12 a.m. British time).
Australia - Simon Katich, Shane Watson, Ricky Ponting (captain), Michael Clarke, Mike Hussey, Marcus North, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Ben Hilfenhaus, Peter Siddle, Xavier Doherty.
England (likely) - Andrew Strauss (captain), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Steve Finn, Graeme Swann.