Ricky Ponting is appealing to Australian cricket fans to stick with his inexperienced Test line-up, forecasting more peaks and troughs until it gathers momentum.
Ponting became only the second Australian captain to lose two Ashes series in England in 119 years following a heavy defeat at The Oval.
“We’re all in this together, working through a difficult transition period,” Ponting wrote in a column for The Australian newspaper, after the first of the Australian Test players returned to Sydney. “It’s going to be a roller-coaster ride for a while.”
The 2005 loss was a huge upset, with the Australian team brimming some of the modern greats of the game.
But the 2009 series was expected to be a tighter contest between two moderately talented teams.
Even so, the harshest critics have called for Ponting’s dismissal as national captain in the wake of the 2-1 series loss. Cricket Australia responded by backing the 34-year-old batsman as the leader of a rebuilding team.
The loss to England plunged Australia from No. 1 to No. 4 in the international Test rankings, behind South Africa, India and Sri Lanka.
“Our seesawing between good and bad in this series was due to inexperience,” Ponting said, adding that the holes left by the retirements of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Matthew Hayden were difficult to fill. “We have lost a number of great players over the past couple of years and we can’t expect the next generation to step straight in.
“But they will be better players for their exposure in a tough series like this. They will learn to do things differently under pressure.”
Australia lost a Test series at home to South Africa over the southern summer, tasting defeat on home soil for the first time in more than a decade. But the hosts rallied to win the third and final Test against the Proteas at home, then won two straight in South Africa to clinch the return series in March and defend the No. 1 ranking.
That win gave Ponting confidence ahead of the Ashes, and he was disappointed not to take an immediate lead when England stoutly held on for a draw in the first Test at Cardiff. England won the second Test at Lord’s but Australia had a comprehensive win at Leeds in the fourth Test to level the series ahead of the deciding fifth Test at The Oval.
“We can’t mask our disappointment, but a lot of the indicators were that we were good enough,” Ponting said. “At the beginning of the series I thought we would win and said as much, but we fell at the last hurdle. We’ve got a really good group.
“I’m confident we’re in for a ... a good summer against the West Indies and Pakistan.”
Ponting backed his fast bowlers - Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus - to return to the level that caused so many problems for batsmen in South Africa, rather than stumble after failing to exploit the English conditions.
“Despite the inconsistency of inexperience, they finished as the three leading wicket-takers in the series, which is a terrific effort given how little Test cricket they have played between them,” he said.
Ponting also tipped 20-year-old opener Phil Hughes to make it big on the international stage, despite being dropped after two Tests when he showed signs of being susceptible to short-pitch bowling.
But Warne, who retired from Test cricket as the game’s most prolific wicket taker after Australia regained the Ashes 5-0 in 2006-07, said it was time to look to the future and stop talking about the transitional nature of the squad.
“There has been a lot of talk about this being an Australian team in transition. This team is inexperienced and quite a few of them were playing in their first Ashes series but there comes a time when the transition period is over,” Warne wrote in the Daily Telegraph. “The question is: How long is a transition period?
“It hurts a bloody lot losing the Ashes. The vultures are circling and looking for answers, but to me, it’s pointless and destructive. It is more constructive for the people who make the decisions to sit down and work out how to move forward ... Decisions need to be made when the dust settles.”
Warne said somebody should be made accountable for the “staggering” blunder not to include a spinner at The Oval, where “the wicket looked like a desert even before the game started.”
He also criticised a schedule containing too many ODIs - such as a cluster of series in England, South Africa and India in the next few months - for the state of the Test team.
“There are only nine Tests between now and the next Ashes series in Australia at the end of next year - but a ludicrous amount of one-day cricket in the same period,” he said. “I’ll say it again, one-day cricket should go. It has evolved into Twenty20. Cricket only needs two forms of the game, not three. Something needs to be done about scheduling: It’s been going on too long.
“How can we expect the players to play well in Test cricket when they are not even going to play a domestic first-class game before the first Test of the summer?”