Ponting: 'All those little doubts are turning into very big doubts'

Throughout the Ashes series the England captain, Andrew Flintoff, has emphasised the pride and character in his team. It can now be safely concluded that these qualities must have vanished mysteriously alongside the bowling plans that were so carelessly mislaid the other day.

Wherever all three went, pride and character were patently absent on the third and final day of the fourth Test. Perhaps when the England and Wales Cricket Board gets round to deciding whether to call the Victoria police about the bowling dossier, it can ask them to locate the other missing items, which had also fallen into opposition hands in their entirety and were much more seriously missed.

In lamenting England's defeat by an innings and 99 runs with 189 overs of the Test theoretically left (time enough to lose all over again), it would be remiss not to pay tribute to an Australian side which had meticulously prepared for this victory and the three that preceded it.

Their departing champions, Shane Warne, the man of the match, and Glenn McGrath were in exemplary form and they have found new gladiators barely less impressive.

Shortly, it will be discovered how Australia, minus Warne and McGrath for ever, can perform but this team have been mightily impressive. They have been altogether too much for England, whose problems Flintoff did not seem anxious to address.

"We have been outplayed for three days, I think it's obvious, and it doesn't feel too wonderful," he said. "Coming out tonight there was a lot of character and pride, I would reiterate that. That's still there and it's not nice when that's questioned. I stand up for myself and every one of the lads in that respect. Australia came out and were good and we didn't have many answers."

Flintoff is a marvellous and stirring cricketer and an excellent companion but most of this was at best dodging the issue and at worst poppycock. Whatever the exact figures of the tourists' defeat it was as immense as the newly revamped Melbourne Cricket Ground. On this performance, they are walking as aimlessly as a lonely drunk on New Year's Eve, into only the second 5-0 Ashes whitewash and the first for 86 years.

Ricky Ponting, the captain of glorious Australia, talked of England better than the English. "We're playing pretty well, no doubt about it. When there have been big moments in this series we have won them very convincingly

"They wouldn't be happy with this performance here but, when we're playing as well as we are, all those little doubts that appeared in their minds after the first and second Tests are turning into very big doubts. I think they have shown that."

Ponting said that all England could do was play for personal pride and a bit of team pride. Flintoff seemed to say it could be done. "It's no use trying to beat Australia with three or four lads performing, you need, six, seven or eight." He was asked how much he wanted to avoid becoming the first captain to lose the Ashes 5-0 since 1920-21.

"That's a stinking question," said Fred. "I don't think it needs to be asked. I don't think anybody would want to do that." It certainly was a stinking question, but it merely matched England's performance.

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