'We need to move on quickly' - Ponting
Having gotten so used to singing Under the Southern Cross to celebrate Test victories for most of his career, Ricky Ponting now finds himself in the sort of situation that once confronted Allan Border in the late 1980s. A 2-0 defeat in India, especially after coming within a ball of winning the first Test, is hardly ideal preparation to try and win back the Ashes, but the man entrusted with restoring Australian cricket to the top asserted that it wasn't all doom and gloom after the latest Indian misadventure.
"There have been a few positives," Ponting said. "[Mitchell] Johnson and [Ben] Hilfenhaus have been very good. Shane Watson at the top of the order. Tim Paine has looked every bit a world-class keeper-batsman. The rest of us have been a bit inconsistent. We haven't played the five days that we need to to win games. They deserve to have won both games, but even if you ask them, they're a bit flattered by that result."
Some of the squad now face limited-overs games against India and Sri Lanka, while others will return to a diet of Shield cricket before the first Test against England. "We've got to move on pretty quickly now. Our next Test match is at the Gabba, the start of the Ashes series. We have to make sure that we play five long tough days of Test cricket."
While bitterly disappointed at another loss in India, Ponting suggested that it would have little bearing on the contest for the urn. "They're totally different conditions," he said. "It's going to be interesting to see how the group bounces back now. That's three Tests in a row we've lost as well. We can't forget the last one against Pakistan. I'm not sure that's happened in my time of playing for Australia. It's certainly not happened since I've been captain.
"There are some issues there that we need to deal with, and we have to get over them quickly. We've managed to match it with the No.1 team for nine of the 10 days, but we haven't been good enough when it's mattered."
When it was pointed out that Australia hadn't lost three in a row since West Indies defeated them at Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne in 1988, he said: "I wasn't playing in 1988, though it feels like it (grins). We have to get off that train for sure, and start winning some Tests pretty soon."
Having come to India with a Test average of 20 in 12 Tests here, Ponting the batsman certainly went some way towards correcting that anomaly in his career stats. But when asked whether he felt he had done his part, he disagreed. "When a No.3 batsman gets in and makes 60 or 70, you expect him to go on and make big scores. Tendulkar did it; he made 200. If I'd made 200 in the first innings, the result might have been different. We've got to be harsh on ourselves. Three scores in the 70s is not good enough."
His deputy, Michael Clarke, managed just 35 runs in the series, a far cry from 2004 when he made a scintillating century on debut in Bangalore. Clarke has moved up the order to No.4, but Ponting was adamant that the switch had nothing to do with the downturn in his batting fortunes. "We've all had those series in India." he said. "I had about four of them [laughs], where I came here and worked hard without getting the results I wanted.
There's no need to worry about Michael Clarke. He knows his own game very well. The fact that he's moved up one spot in the order hasn't got anything to do with the runs he has or hasn't scored. He's a world-class player and I'm sure that when the Ashes come round, you'll see him in good touch."
Apart from Ben Hilfenhaus, who toiled away diligently while enhancing his claim to keep the new ball, there was little consistency on the bowling front. But in Ponting's eyes, it was the batsmen who cost the side the series. "I think our bowlers have done a terrific job here," he said. "We were one ball away from winning the first Test. I don't think they were disappointing. If anything, the reason we've lost both games is our second-innings batting. If we had batted an hour longer in both Tests, we certainly wouldn't have lost."
While the match was in progress, Shane Warne, his former team-mate, weighed in with some scathing criticism of the field Ponting set for Hauritz. When asked about it, Ponting put down his old mate in polite fashion. "Every field that Nathan's bowled to since he's been here has been at his request," he said. "Those are the fields he wants to bowl to. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that Shane would take the time to ask anyone about that. He's got his opinion out in public at the moment.
"Different people say different things. We don't always agree with all of them. There's no doubt we'll all face a bit of criticism having lost two Tests, but it would be nice if they were a bit more informed before they made some of their comments."
There was no unequivocal backing for Hauritz though, when asked what lay ahead for the beleaguered offie. "That's up to him to work out," said Ponting. "As you know, I've given him what I feel is the right advice, on the little things he can work on. That's what captains and coaches are in place for.
Hopefully he plays well in the one-day series here and gets a bit of confidence under his belt before he gets back to Australia. He can play a couple of Shield games there and start working things out for himself."
He also brushed off suggestions that there might be major changes in personnel ahead of the Ashes. "We all have to be disappointed with the results," he said. "But all any of us can do when we go back home is play the best cricket that we can. Me, I've got to make as many runs as I can. Anyone that's out of the squad at the moment ... if they keep scoring runs and putting their hands up, we'll wait and see what happens when the selection comes round for Brisbane. I don't think there are too many gaping holes in our team. We just have to make sure we don't let opportunities slip."
They did in Mohali, and after being outplayed for the final five sessions in Bangalore, it will be interesting to see what this team are made of. Do some of the old warhorses have one big series left in them? And how many of the inexperienced hands are capable of the game-changing performance? Ponting and Hilfenhaus aside, there's an ordinariness and inconsistency there that England will certainly have noted as the clock ticks down to the Gabba.