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Peter English at Perth
December 18, 2006
Ricky Ponting had just completed the most significant Test victory of his 33-match reign and still he could not escape from his lowest moment as leader. The swift recovery to return Australia to the top of Ashes battles was exceptional, but it did not stop thoughts of England in 2005 and the loss that ultimately helped reinvigorate the side.
Ponting was the first to bring up the England defeat and revealed the model for success in this series had been set up barely a week after they returned from The Oval. All of Australia's contracted players were called to Melbourne for a meeting to dissect the mistakes of the campaign and their suggestions led to the appointment of more coaches, vows to improve preparation and a desire to make sure nobody could beat them.
"That's where all the cricket that we are playing now started," Ponting said. "There was a burning passion in the boys to make themselves and the team better."
Troy Cooley, the bowling coach, was poached from the United Kingdom, the role of the fielding expert Mike Young was expanded and Richard McInnes, a full-time analyst, was added to the support staff. The upshot has been a side that did not make the critical errors that affected them in England and they have succeeded in the first three Tests.
"We made a lot of mistakes last time and I couldn't see this team making the same mistakes again," Ponting said. "We haven't made anywhere near as many in this series. Last time we bowled lots of no-balls, our fielding was sloppy and whenever we had partnerships we managed to lose a wicket and let England back into the game.
"This time we haven't done that. Once we've had a partnership going we've generally made it a big one. We just haven't given England the opportunities to compete with us."
Andrew Flintoff's side has winded Australia occasionally but not found a way to floor them and the series has been decided in 15 days. Ponting's supreme batting, developing leadership and the squad's meticulously researched field settings have been essential and he is determined not to ease up in Melbourne or Sydney.
"We're pretty satisfied at the moment and probably will be satisfied for the next few days," he said. "But we want to win every game we play." Since the Ashes they have been successful in 14 out of 15 games - the miss was a draw in Perth against South Africa - and they will start at the MCG on a 10-match streak.
The speed of the series being decided has been stunning but it has not surprised Ponting, who believes he is in charge of a side performing as well as they have for a "long time". "For it to be over is a great result," he said. "To watch how we played in each Test, then we've deserved to win in three."
Australia's ageing side has been criticised for its Dad's Army qualities and Ponting was disappointed with predictions from some former Test players who doubted their ability to re-claim the urn. Proving critics wrong has been a motivating factor over a number of years and it has been used successfully again.
"The guys concerned have made it a mission of theirs to play a big part in the series," Ponting said. "At different times they have been magnificent. I have no idea when they are retiring but hopefully it's a long way off. I've played with some of them my whole career, so it would be a sad day." Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne were important figures in the match as Australia secured the 206-run victory and the screams of success could still be heard from the dressing room four hours after the game.
Despite the high levels of celebration, Ponting was not concerned with Australia's ability to refocus in a week in Melbourne. "I won't be happy if we lose a Test here and I'm sure the other players are in the same boat," he said. "With all the hurt that carried over from the last series, I'm sure they'll prepare well."
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