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'I've got a good feeling about the next crop'

'We can stay No. 1' - Ponting

Peter English at Sydney

January 5, 2007

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Ricky Ponting is confident Australia's three retiring players can be replaced © Getty Images
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Australia's departing players have no worries about the side dropping from the top of the world rankings after spending the past decade keeping them there. And Ricky Ponting believes the group of low-profile replacements is capable of stepping into the gaps created by three of the country's longest-serving performers.

As the Australians accepted the applause for a 5-0 victory from a heaving SCG, Ponting spoke to Michael Clarke about the responsibilities of the new generation, which faces its first Test challenges against Sri Lanka and India towards the end of the year. "Make sure the next time we play an Ashes series we give it our best shot for the same result," Ponting told Clarke, who scored two centuries in the contest.

"For the next few years hopefully it's Clarke and I and Michael Hussey leading our country. I see it as a pretty exciting time." Ponting also expected players such as Adam Voges, who was in the squad for Perth, and the bowlers Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus would help replace Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer.

"It's not so much the unknown because I've got a good feeling about the next crop," he said. "When you get young players in the squad there's excitement around. The nucleus of this group will still be together and I can see us being a very dominant team."

The last time Australia lost three significant figures they suffered five years of misery, but Warne is confident the trough will not be repeated. In 1983-84 Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh and Greg Chappell retired on the same day at the SCG and the side struggled to recover.

However, Warne believed Australia were currently so far ahead of the second-best side that the next batch of players would be able to hold the lofty position. "We're very fortunate that first-class cricket in Australia is a good breeding ground for talent," he said. "There are some wonderful cricketers out there.

"It'll be interesting to see which way the selectors go. Will they go for some 30-year-old players to replace us, or will they go for some youth? It's a good time to get some younger players into the Test side while it's been so successful and there is a decent gap between the next best side."

Warne said he would watch with interest "over a beer" to see how the team developed. "I don't think Australia will come back to the field," he said. "They'll replace us three guys and I'm sure Australia will keep playing good cricket and winning."

Australia's Ashes cleansweep has contributed to a 12-game winning streak that began at the MCG in 2005. Ponting said it would be a good tribute to the retiring players if they aimed to beat the mark of 16 set by Steve Waugh's side in 2001, but Warne hoped it would stay untouched.

"I bought a print for $35,000 that was for 16 in a row, so hopefully it rains in a couple of the next Tests," he said. "Or maybe I'll have to buy the next one when they win 17.

"When we won 16 in a row I didn't think it would happen again. To be on the verge of doing that again, and to have won 16 out of 17, that's an amazing journey and a testament to the quality of players we've got."

Australia became a dominant team with the performances of Warne, McGrath and, later, Justin Langer, and Warne believed they first reached the new level in 1995 when they became unofficial world champions by beating West Indies. "We played some excellent cricket before that, but in '95 we started to dominate rather than just win," he said. "Once we beat West Indies over there we've dominated international cricket, except for a couple of hiccups - once in India and the 2005 Ashes - along the way. In general, we've dominated world cricket."

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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