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Almost perfect

Peter English reviews Australian cricket in 2006

Peter English
Peter English

It's mine: As the end of an amazing 12 months approached, Ricky Ponting got his hands on a previously elusive prize © Getty Images
One match remains but Australia are closing on a year of perfection. In nine Tests the record of Ricky Ponting's band is untarnished and they are aiming even higher. A 5-0 Ashes result might even wipe away the memories of a mortal 2005.
From the moment Ponting rolled two centuries into his 100th Test at the SCG in January to Shane Warne's Ashes-earning dismissal of Monty Panesar on Monday, the side has been virtually untouchable. Three times, in Johannesburg, Fatullah and Adelaide, they were at the bottom of holes, but each occasion sparked game-turning rumblings from the most senior players, who have been measuring the sand in their retirement hourglasses.
Damien Martyn's time ran out first, with him walking away once Warne steered Australia to a 2-0 buffer in South Australia, and he went into hiding as the Ashes were recaptured. The third chapter of Martyn's Test career began when he was a surprise choice for the tour of the South Africa in March and his position was unsettled until his 101 in the final game saved the team from defeat. However, he was unable to maintain his desire or direction and following Michael Clarke's 124 at Adelaide he jumped before the soon-to-be-inevitable push.
While Martyn struggled to regain his powers, Warne's were still in tact with 42 wickets and another Ashes win, although his victims fell at a relatively high average of 33.21. England had a say in the expansion of his figures, but they were also in awe of him again, especially in the final innings of the second and third Tests.
Adam Gilchrist, whose wicketkeeping carried few flaws while his batting dropped to the usual standard of glovemen, was also outstanding at the WACA, where his 57-ball century narrowly missed a world record, but his most important innings came at an unexpected place. Australia had left themselves only five days between the final Test in South Africa and the first in Bangladesh and their lack of preparation put them in danger of adding to the earth-shattering one-day loss the previous year.

Headline act: Stuart Clark started his Test career in South Africa and has been impressive ever since © Getty Images
Six for 93 and trailing Bangladesh's opening effort by 334, Australia relied on Gilchrist for his first century in 16 games and it turned the Test and the series from embarrassment to season-ending success. Brett Lee was the most exhausted after taking over the attack-leading responsibilities from Glenn McGrath when he was by the side of his sick wife. McGrath improved gradually through his comeback, which included the Champions Trophy success, and was a threat during the opening exchanges of the Ashes.
However, the quick bowling was basically revolving around New South Wales' Stuart Clark, who thundered to a Man-of-the-Series award on debut in South Africa and has been loud ever since. A tall, nippy fast man, he has sprinted to 37 wickets at 18.62 and added a fast-developing reputation as a man who could carry the attack when Warne and McGrath bow out.
In an all-conquering year it has been Ricky Ponting who stood above it all. As a batsman he has been immaculate, piling up seven centuries and 1326 runs at 94.71, and as a captain he has grown since handing back the Ashes at The Oval.
In recovering the urn so quickly and claiming the seemingly un-winnable Champions Trophy, he has compiled a new era of familiar Australian domination. If Ponting's men win in Melbourne they will draw level with West Indies' streak of 11, which sits second behind Steve Waugh's 16. Ponting has lost only three of 33 games as leader and the ruthlessness against England is unlikely to ease.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo