'We haven't been that bad' - Ponting
South Africa will have to wait until the return series next month to try to steal the official No. 1 Test ranking from Australia, but captain Graeme Smith is boosted by the knowledge his side can beat any one in the world. The tourists could have taken top spot with a win in Sydney, but the dead-rubber defeat led to a 2-1 victory, giving the hosts a five-point lead at the top of the table.
While Ricky Ponting said Australia "haven't been that bad" over the past three weeks, the team fell heavily in 2008, and if they lose the three-match contest in South Africa they will no longer be world champions. Smith's team was the best of the past year, but he was reluctant to say they were on top.
"The ranking says not," he said when asked if South Africa were No. 1. "We can hold our own with any team. That's a comforting position. Rankings are a nice talking point, but we want to know we can arrive in a series knowing we are capable of beating a team."
Smith, who said the series had been the best of his career, is prepared for more Australian fightbacks in South Africa, but back-to-back victories remain a priority. "We're the only team that has that opportunity," he said, "so in six weeks it all starts again."
Ponting was relieved to have regained the winning feeling after a torrid period when the captain, selectors and team were heavily criticised. "We wanted to start 2009 on the right foot and we've done that," he said. "I'm very proud of the way we bounced back. It's always very hard in a series when you're 2-0 down. It says a lot about the character of the side to get off the canvas."
Australia almost didn't make it, taking the final wicket in the 103-run win with 10 balls remaining. A storm was the first threat, but then the tailenders, Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini, delayed things before Smith walked out at No. 11 to bat despite a broken finger. Mitchell Johnson was finally able to take the last wicket when he bowled Smith with an off-cutter.
"It was tense, my heart rate was up for much of the afternoon," Ponting said. "It was great to come away with a hard-fought win. We thoroughly deserved to win this game."
He also defended the side from the displays of the previous month. "It could have easily been a 2-1 result our way as well," he said. "We haven't been that bad. There's been a lot of negativity around us. This can only be a really positive thing for us."
Peter Siddle was Man of the Match for his eight wickets, including 5 for 59 in the first innings, and Ponting praised the young bowling attack. Johnson also performed solidly while Doug Bollinger and Nathan Hauritz chipped in.
"To see [Siddle] coming through with a Man-of-the-Match award was very pleasing," Ponting said. "Bollinger did well at different times, Andrew McDonald got crucial breakthroughs and Hauritz was steady and reliable."