Australia's captain, Ricky Ponting, has leapt to the defence of his opposite number, Andrew Flintoff, and England's embattled coach, Duncan Fletcher, and believes that the criticism that has come their way since losing the Ashes is "harsh".
Ponting, who himself knows what it is like to be hounded by the media after his team's defeat in the 2005, was speaking in Sydney where he intends to unwind for three days with his family, before rejoining the Australian squad at Melbourne for the fourth Test.

"There are 11 guys in the team, or 13 guys in the squad, and it is very harsh just to blame the coach and captain," said Ponting. "But I know, especially after last year, what it is like as a leader, as a captain of a side. When you lose a lot of the flak will come back on you."

"We used to have our differences, we don't anymore," said Ponting of his relationship with Fletcher, whom we saw smirking from the balcony at Trent Bridge last summer after he had been run out by England's substitute fielder, Gary Pratt. Even so, it was clear that his sympathy for England's off-field plight didn't extend to on-field matters.

"They haven't played anywhere near as well as they'd liked but we haven't given them the opportunity to," he added, before agreeing that a 5-0 whitewash was his team's ultimate goal. It is a feat that no Ashes team since Warwick Armstrong's Australians in 1920-21 has achieved.

"I think we will look at 4-0 first and go from there," said Ponting, as he once again refused to get ahead of himself. "It has been a wonderful four weeks for the side and we are pleased with the results so far."