Ricky Ponting urged his players prior to the first Test to lift Australia from their modest Test ranking of fourth, and backed them with perhaps his most tactically aggressive game as captain. This is a new era for the Australian team and also for Ponting's leadership, should his ruthless pursuit of West Indies over the past three days become a template for future campaigns.

A rare first-innings declaration and a rarer enforcement of the follow-on - just the third time in Ponting's 63-Test captaincy career - signalled Australia's positive intent in the post-Ashes era. Whereas Ponting has historically favoured a methodical, asphyxiating approach when in possession of a sizeable first-innings advantage, this time he went for the quick kill - and in so doing assured his players two extra days shore leave.

"The one thing I spoke about a bit before the game was our ranking and how keen I am for this group of players to do their best and put their best foot forward to improve that," Ponting said. "I think today was our first step forward in being able to do that. We've got a good group of players together, there's a lot of skill around our group at the moment and a few of our younger blokes are starting to have some good performances.

"Winning games tends to make everyone feel a bit better about themselves around the group. We've achieved the things we wanted to this week. As far as the Ashes are concerned, that's long gone, done and dusted. We've all learned from it and hopefully it will make us better cricketers in the future."

Conservatism is a term that has hounded Ponting throughout Australia's transition period. Sometimes instinctive, sometimes in response to uncertainly over new cast members, Ponting's cautious approach has jarred with an Australian public weaned on the cavalier captaincy of Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh, and attracted criticism from the national media.

Will the Gabba Test be the line in the sand? Ponting certainly hinted as much after play on Saturday. Increasingly at ease with his next generation line-up, Ponting showed supreme faith in his bowling line-up throughout the match and called upon selectors to end the era of experimentation.

"Generally when a team's having a lot of success there's not a lot of change in the side," he said. "I guess that was one other thing I said before the game: it would be good to keep a group of players together for a long time, because that generally means the team is performing well and individuals within the team are doing well and performing their roles. All going to plan, we won't have too many changes at all over the next 12 months. It would be great to keep the squad together."

Ponting was pondering follow-on permutations as early as day two, when he declared Australia's first innings closed at the tea break. "I felt at that stage that 480 was a pretty big total and if we bowled well and held our chances, there was a chance that we might have been good enough to only have to bat once in the game," he said. "It worked out pretty well from there."

But the defining move came in the second session on Saturday, when Ponting opted for the knockout blow rather than a points decision in enforcing the follow-on. Only a gallant century from teenage debutant Adrian Barath pierced the otherwise all-encompassing gloom for the tourists, who slumped to their fifth consecutive Test defeat.

"I thought today that if the bowlers could bowl well at the start of the second innings then the opportunity to finish the game today and for them to have an extra couple of days off leading into Adelaide was pretty appealing," Ponting said. "That's the reason we did it the way we did it.

"We know that West Indies were probably a long way off their best in this game and there is no opportunity for us to be complacent with what we've achieved. It's one Test match out of the summer and I made it pretty clear at the start of this week that it's about us getting our cricket to a level that's going to move us back up those rankings."

Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo