MAHELA JAYAWARDENE says the prospect of a hostile MCG crowd seeking retribution against his Sri Lankan team for its recent ball-tampering accusations against Victorian paceman Peter Siddle will only fire up his players as they bid to level the series.
"I don't think that fazes our team. In fact, it might give us something extra," Jayawardene said. "You have to remember there will be a good, partisan Sri Lankan crowd and that might go against him [Siddle]."
Australian skipper Michael Clarke trained all right on Tuesday but is not a guaranteed starter, leaving the possibility that Shane Watson could be the first stand-in captain for the time-honoured fixture. Sri Lanka also has a fitness dilemma with senior seamer Nuwan Kulasekara in doubt because of a bruised rib after being struck by Siddle in Hobart.
Batsman Usman Khawaja and seamer Dhammika Prasad are the respective standby players.
Sri Lanka have only once played a Test at the MCG, 17 years ago when off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan was cited for throwing. Muralitharan was taunted by the crowd over the incident, and while the abuse has dissipated over subsequent visits to Australia, the now 40-year-old still encounters some animosity from spectators in the Big Bash League, in which he represents Melbourne Renegades.
While all Sri Lankan squad members from that 1995-96 tour have since retired from international matches, Jayawardene said the current team would nevertheless be emboldened by how their countrymen had coped with animosity and would be prepared if the expected 60,000-plus crowd registered its displeasure over its local player, Siddle, being accused of manipulating the seam of the ball in Hobart.
"We have been through a lot of hostile things in the past, [Muralitharan being no-balled in] '95 was one," Jayawardene said. "But we've always had a great support in Melbourne and Sydney. We're looking forward to that. In one-day cricket we've always cherished that and it gives us an extra bit of momentum towards the game, so I'm expecting the same tomorrow and the next few days."
Clarke spent more than an hour undergoing a multi-faceted fitness test on Tuesday under the supervision of team physiotherapist Alex Kountouris. It included batting in the nets, slips catching and, most relevantly, a short stint running between wickets with his pads on.
The captain conceded he had yet to run at full intensity since straining his right hamstring while batting last Monday but wasn't far off.
He insisted neither the occasion nor his ability to move into the top few Test run-scorers in any calendar year – he ranks eighth with 1489, in reach of Australian record-holder Ricky Ponting's 1544 – would influence the decision on whether he is fit to face Sri Lanka.
"Having experts around me [will prevent that occurring]. Alex has been around international cricket for such a long time. He's seen me do my hamstrings on plenty of occasions, he's seen plenty of guys go through it," Clarke said.
Clarke will not undergo a match-day fitness test. The decision will instead rest on how his body has coped with training on Monday and Tuesday. "In my opinion, if you're not 100 per cent and can't play at your best [you should not play] ... There's someone else who can come in and will perform. It's not worth the risk for the team, let alone the individual player."
Should Clarke not be fit to play in the Test, he backed Usman Khawaja to be a solid middle-order replacement. He also endorsed the leadership credentials of vice-captain Watson, whose only experience leading the national team was a six-match ODI stint earlier this year where all but one game was overseas.
"I am very confident that if I don't play it will have zero impact on the result and 'Watto' will do a great job. He will do everything in his power to help us win the Test and the series," Clarke said.