Peter Roebuck: Ponting's men must change for the better

Not until the final match did Australia bat with the required skill
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Now comes the aftermath. England has a captain, an opening pair a new-ball attack, a dangerous middle-order batsman and a great all-rounder. In short, it is strong in all the important places. Ashley Giles does enough with bat and ball, and as the team's motivator and librarian, to justify his retention, at any rate in the absence of a genuine challenger. Duncan Fletcher is right to take the overall package into account. Alongside his captain, a curious mixture of delicacy and constancy, the England coach has created an atmosphere in which his match-winners feel comfortable and able to release their talents.

Of course not every position has been settled. Geraint Jones and Ian Bell must prove that they deserve the opportunities that have come their way. Nothing complicated about it. Jones must sharpen his work with the gloves and Bell must score more runs. Team England is all very well but the England team must reflect the strength of the game around the country. Apart from anything else England beat the Australians 2-1 at home. India did the same in 2001. It is not unusual for a side placed second in the rankings to secure a narrow victory on its own patch. It does not guarantee victory in the second leg. England must keep improving.

Far from wasting any time crying over spilt beer, the Australians must put their minds to recovering the Ashes and retaining their position at the top of the rankings. Although the loss is keenly felt, Australia have lost series before and recovered. Rather than allowing defeat to fester, those involved must correct their mistakes. Along the way the Australians can reflect with pride that they held the Ashes for 16 years while remembering that nothing last forever.

Playing against strong opposition gives opponents the chance to look themselves in the mirror. Ricky Ponting and company can start the process by admitting that from the second Test match onwards, England were the better side. Apart from their accident-prone gloveman, Michael Vaughan's side caught better, fielded better and ran between wickets with greater alacrity. In short, England gave the basics their due. Australia did not.

Much has been made of the loss of Glenn McGrath before the Edgbaston Test. Although the timing was unfortunate, there is no certainty that the great man from Narrowmine would have taken wickets. After using the Lord's slope superbly, McGrath was not subsequently much of a threat. His five-wicket haul at Old Trafford came when England was pressing for runs with a view to closing their innings.

McGrath's absence highlighted the lack of depth in Australia's pace ranks. Apart from the spin department where the incomparable Warne reigned supreme, Australia were outbowled in four successive matches. Considering their success over the last few seasons, this came as a shock. Bowlers win Test matches. Unable to find four great bowlers, Australia must change the balance of the side to include a fifth bowler or an all-rounder such as Shane Watson or the Victorian wrist-spinner Cameron White.

Recognising that he has lost a crucial yard of pace and that he cannot survive as a fast-medium bowler, Jason Gillespie has been training hard in an attempt to recover his place. He will need to perform well for South Australia to convince selectors he still has Test wickets in him. Michael Kasprowicz also looked like a spent force. Neither of the wild cards, Brett Lee or Shaun Tait, did enough to earn long runs in the side. Lee's heart is large, but sometimes seems to function better than his head. Tait had a miserable time at the Oval and seems to be a little hit and miss.

McGrath and Warne can be expected to play in the next Ashes series Down Under and it would be no surprise to see Warne back in England in four years' time. What else to do? He has been sacked by Channel 9.

In some respects it was inappropriate that so much attention was paid to the leg-spinner at the Oval, and so little to another great bowler unlikely to be seen again. Although, McGrath is thin, and streamlined bowlers last longer, he will be back shooting wild pigs by 2009.

Among Australian youngsters, Aaron Bird is the best fast bowler, Callum Ferguson is the most impressive emerging batsman and Bo Casson, a merchant of chinamen, is the most promising spinner. But it is a myth that Australia rush pell-mell into the arms of youth. Now and then a player does emerge from what locals are pleased to call "left field". More often the next man in line is chosen, regardless of age. In some respects to its cost, Australian cricket has entered the professional age. Mike Hussey will play this year. Brad Haddin, a fine performer, will replace Adam Gilchrist as soon as the incumbent loses what remains of his appetite for touring life.

Not until the final match of the series, did the Australians bat with the required skill. Too often the batsmen treated the bowling without the respect it deserved. There were some memorable innings, but taken as a whole the Australians did not score enough runs. The challenge of meeting high-class aggressive fast bowling on impressively firm pitches was not met. Both Damien Martyn and Adam Gilchrist had poor series, thereby adding to the impression that the team contained too many ageing players. Gilchrist is a great cricketer who needs to determine his course over the next few years, If the hunger remains then he will be back. Martyn batted and fielded like a man living on borrowed time.

Ponting's captaincy was not sufficiently incisive. He was out-thought by his counterpart. Now comes his chance to grow into the position. He needs a younger side and a new coach. Australia cannot avoid the truths revealed in this series. Often calamity and opportunity wear the same clothes.

Can England claim top position in the rankings? Will Australia regain the Ashes in 2006-07 Believe me, they will be flat out. Australian teams seldom beat themselves. It is wonderful that these questions can nowadays be asked. It has been a long time but England are back. Now it is a matter of maintaining a strong culture in the team and the game itself. If English cricket becomes lazy or self-indulgent then the rise will be brief and the fall painful.

What Aussies papers say: 'The worm has turned'

There are just 400 sleeps until Michael Vaughan's men arrive to defend the Ashes, although for those in charge of guiding the fortunes of Australian cricket there will be far fewer.

Sydney Morning Herald

Now the worm has turned and the masters have been toppled, amid much national rejoicing.

The Age

Put under the microscope by a more eager opponent, and the old boys were unable to respond.

The Australian

Australians are good sports, which is why, after a record eight Ashes series victories in a row leading up to this year, we are able to congratulate our normally weaker competitor.

Courier Mail

Australia's tactical flair was also a point of discussion over the summer with Michael Vaughan widely felt to have won that battle.

Daily Telegraph

Australia's build-up to next Ashes

2005 Nov-Dec

HOME v West Indies

Three-Test series

2005-06 Dec-Jan

HOME v South Africa

Three-Test series

2005-06 March

AWAY v South Africa Three-Test series

2006-07 April

AWAY v Bangladesh

Two-Test series

2006-07 Sept

AWAY v Zimbabwe

To be confirmed

2006-07 Nov

HOME v New Zealand

To be confirmed