Australia's hopes of bouncing back strongly for the crunch third Ashes Test were given a major lift by the prospect of a shock return by injured duo Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee at Old Trafford.
Fast bowler Lee, rated as only 50- 50 to play in Manchester just two days ago after being admitted into a Birmingham hospital with a knee infection, impressed sufficiently at yesterday's practice session to be passed fit for selection.
His return was almost expected, but the sight of McGrath bowling two spells out in the middle at Old Trafford was a major surprise only a week after suffering an ankle injury in the warm-up to the Test at Edgbaston by treading on a cricket ball.
McGrath, named man-ofthe-match during Australia's emphatic first Test victory at Lord's, bowled for the first time under the supervision of physiotherapist Errol Alcott and ran in cautiously at first.
But by the end of his second spell of bowling, McGrath was running through the crease without any obvious discomfort and will be reassessed this morning before Australia name their side.
Should he come through this morning's fitness test, it would be a staggering recovery just a few days after walking only with the aid of crutches and a protective boot around the ankle.
"Glenn knows his body well and it hurt him a lot not to take part in that last Test match," explained Australia captain Ricky Ponting. "He'll be pretty keen to prove everyone wrong."
Having McGrath and Lee available will provide a major fillip for Ponting and the Australians following the heartbreak of their two-run defeat on Sunday, particularly as they both prize themselves on their ability to reverse-swing in Old Trafford conditions which are expected to aid that particular skill.
It would also add yet a further twist to an already fascinating series which has been full of twists and turns and which Ponting and his Australian players, who are not used to facing such intense competition, are relishing.
"We're looking forward to the challenge," said Ponting. "This series right now is exactly where we wanted to be.
"This is the reason you play Test cricket, to be tested and we've been tested during this series so far and we're looking forward to showcasing our skills again tomorrow.
"I think it was always going to be my toughest test as captain and I think the players looked at it like that as well.
"We're in a tough, hard series and we've got a good side on our hands.
"That would generally bring the best out of everybody that plays this game at the highest level."
Ponting claimed he had been pleased with the efforts of his bowlers so far in the series, but was disappointed with the batting, which has been underlined by Australia passing 350 only once in four innings so far in the series.
On an Old Trafford wicket expected to favour the side that bats first, Ponting is demanding an improvement from his fellow batsmen.
"We've played some very good cricket at times and we've played some cricket that's been below par," said Ponting. "That's where we're at as a team. When we've had our good moments in the series so far, those moments just haven't lasted for long enough.
"We've lost wickets at crucial times or let the pressure off a couple of times which in the last Test match really cost us."
Should McGrath pass his fitness test in the morning, he is likely to oust Michael Kasprowicz from the starting line-up but Australia are expected to resist the opportunity to play Stuart MacGill as a second spinner.