Coolum, Australia:One of Ricky Ponting's cricket highlights from last year - watching Shane Warne set the world record for Test wickets - will be foremost in his mind when Australia opens its 2007-08 season against Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan spin bowler Muttiah Muralitharan will be the star attraction when Australia begins a two-Test series in Brisbane Nov 8 and later in Hobart, Tasmania on Nov 16.
Warne retired from international cricket with 708 Test wickets, just eight ahead of Muralitharan's current total.
"That will be our major goal - trying to make sure he doesn't break Warnie's record here in Australia," Ponting said Tuesday. "If we do that, we go a long way toward winning the series."
The Australian captain, speaking at a team briefing session involving Cricket Australia's 25 contracted players, said Muralitharan "has been an unbelievable bowler for such a long period of time."
"We'll treat him with the respect we always have," Ponting said. "I think he's come out here in the past and said we play him better than any other country, so the challenge is there for us again."
Ponting, asked to compare Muralitharan and Warne for probably the umpteenth time in career, predictably gave the nod to his former teammate and still close friend.
"I know there's been a lot made about how may wickets Murali has against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe," Ponting said. "It's pretty hard to pick who's the better of the two, but I'd much rather have Shane."
The Australian team, also without retired fast bowler Glenn McGrath, is spending part of the week at a five-star resort on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, on the receiving end of a series of lectures on nutrition and drugs. They've left their bats and balls home.
"We haven't talked about cricket, we've basically been listening to the suited variety from the Australian Cricket Board over the past couple of days," said allrounder Andrew Symonds.
Symonds says Australia's Twenty20 team, considered the favorites for the inaugural world competition next month, will be ready by the time it reaches South Africa.
"I think once we have that first training session, we'll all be ready to go," Symonds said. "There are going to be a lot of new challenges this year, a lot of opportunities for the elder statesmen to take on new responsibilities, and also for the young players to come into a side without those legends."
Leg-spinner Stuart MacGill, who long lived in Warne's shadow, fits into the veteran category. He's been around for so long, he started his career playing with Australia's new coach, Tim Nielsen.
Not having Warne around won't be odd for MacGill, but will likely result in some extra work.
"When you consider I probably didn't play a lot with Shane anyway, there's probably not a lot of unusual cricket ahead of me this season," MacGill said.
"If I play well for New South Wales, I'm going to get a lot more international cricket. And that's probably the most daunting aspect of it - we've got some very difficult tours coming up."
One of those begins on Friday for MacGill when he joins captain Adam Voges and the rest of the Australia A team on a tour of Pakistan. Security in Pakistan has been a concern for team management, but Voges said he's confident of an incident-free trip.
"Obviously, Cricket Australia has kept us very well-informed," Voges said. "They'll do everything they can to ensure our safety. The players are comfortable with going."
Australia's Twenty20 team leaves Monday for South Africa, and most of those players will then travel directly to India for a tour that includes seven limited-overs matches. The Australians will be gone for nearly seven weeks, and arrive back home about two weeks before the start of the Sri Lankan series.
Brett Lee, who missed Australia's victorious World Cup campaign in the Caribbean, returns for the Twenty20 series. Fellow fast bowler Shaun Tait won't be in South Africa, though, while he recovers from elbow surgery.
Symonds says Australia and the rest of the countries in the Twenty20 tournament will be looking to stamp their authority on the new super-shortened version of cricket.
"I think it's a fun game," says Symonds. "But there's a fair amount of prize money up for grabs, so I think it will turn serious fairly quickly."