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Justin Langer column

Ricky Ponting stands alone on The Oval outfield
Ponting has suggested he could return to England in four years' time

Justin Langer
By Justin Langer
Former Australia batsman and Somerset captain

Losing this Ashes series will be quite a humbling experience for all Australians.

Not only is the cherished urn back in English hands but, for the first time since the current ranking system was devised, Australia have dropped away from the number one spot.

To make matters worse, they have also fallen to fourth place.

While it hasn't been official, the Australian cricket team have been considered "top dog" since they defeated the West Indies in the Caribbean way back in 1995.

Having spent so long on the throne, it almost seems like sacrilege that they are now dwindling down the ladder.

For the first time in ages they are now the hunters rather than the hunted and it is going to be fascinating to see if they can climb back up the ladder as emphatically as they have in the past.

From some of the newspapers' reaction over the last two days, many English supporters will be relishing this decline in Australia's stocks.

Nathan Hauritz in action at Edgbaston
Nathan Hauritz should be given a long run as the number one spinner if the selectors believe he is the best man for the job

My "leaked dossier" has been the butt of many derogatory comments and while I will take these on the chin, those with any sense will keep a humble head amid the deserved euphoria of this Ashes triumph.

In contrast to 2005, when losing the Ashes proved to be a blip on Australia's impeccable record, my gut feeling is that this new journey is potentially bumpier than it was then.

Losing hurt four years ago, that I can definitely confirm, but there was always a sense that Australia had the stocks to turn things around quickly.

Champion teams and individuals rarely stay down for long and it was a credit to everyone involved in Australian cricket that they were able to go on and win the next 16 straight Test matches after the Ashes disappointment.

With names like Warne, McGrath, Hayden, Gilchrist, Ponting, Martyn and Lee it was almost inevitable that, with a bit of tweaking, everything would work out OK. And it did.

This time around Ponting faces a whole new challenge. His great players have gone and on paper, his climb back up the tree looks to be a tougher one.

But when the dust settles - as it will - I know he will find the energy and vision to roll up his sleeves and find new strategies to help guide this relatively young Test team back towards the top.

Many questions have surfaced after Sunday. Firstly, and as just suggested, Ponting is without doubt the right person to lead this renaissance.

During my first Test match (January 1993), Australia were beaten by a single run by West Indies.

The moment our last wicket fell, the great Allan Border sat crestfallen as he knew the only thing he was unable to achieve in his illustrious career was beating the then mighty West Indies in a Test series.

While it hurt him, it was that driving ambition to tick that final box which kept him focused and alert as Australia's captain.

606: DEBATE
bustermorley

Whether Ponting returns to these shores only time will tell, but the stirring ambition to win the Ashes in England will be enough to drive him and his team forward for as long as our second-greatest batsman wants to carry on for.

Over the next few years the Australian selectors will need to re-employ the strategy which has worked so well for them over a long period of time.

A natural by-product of losing established players is an amount of guess work as to who is the best successor to each position.

In the past two years, 14 players have made their debuts and received their baggy green caps.

For many years there was a long-held philosophy that it was much harder to get out of the Australian team than it was to get into it. So many debutants is an interesting statistic and one which goes against the grain of the success of Australian cricket.

The selectors need to make some strong calls. For example, if they decide Shane Watson is the long-term opener then they should give him a fair run at it.

It is understandable why they want his all-round abilities in the team but they should be clear about whether he is suited to opening, or whether Phillip Hughes should come back so he can grow into the position.

Equally, Nathan Hauritz should be given a long run as the number one spinner if the selectors believe he is the best man for the job.

Finding a replacement for Warne is nigh impossible but unless Hauritz is given a fair crack at it, then the chopping and changing will cause problems among the ranks.

While we Australians are eating humble pie today, everyone can be sure that, at the very least, we will be using the disappointment to get better tomorrow

Hauritz's main problem is that finger spinners rarely have an impact in Australian conditions, so he is going to have make constant improvements if he is to demand his position in the cherished first XI for Australia every time.

In the fast-bowling department, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus did well in this series but they can be sure Lee and Stuart Clark will be breathing down their necks.

The main issue with Australia's attack is its lack of height.

If you compare Australia's unit with Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Stuart Broad, there is a significant difference in height and therefore bounce of each attack.

Unless the conditions suit swing bowling, height is the crucial aspect for most fast bowlers so Australia, like all countries, might be searching basketball courts and beyond to bring some tall men back to England in 2013.

Obviously it is not all doom and gloom for Australia. The domestic system is strong and they have shown great signs by beating South Africa away and coming so close here in this Ashes series.

Strong leadership, which includes a clear vision, is paramount right now and while we Australians are eating humble pie today, everyone can be sure that, at the very least, we will be using the disappointment to get better tomorrow.

It is the only way we know how.

From Taunton

JL



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see also
Flintoff undergoes knee surgery
25 Aug 09 |  England
Cricket Australia backs Ponting
24 Aug 09 |  Australia
Strauss targets top of rankings
24 Aug 09 |  England
Media reaction to Ashes victory
24 Aug 09 |  England
Victorious England regain Ashes
23 Aug 09 |  England
Strauss savours famous Ashes win
23 Aug 09 |  England
Ponting determined to bounce back
23 Aug 09 |  Australia
England v Australia photos
23 Aug 09 |  England
Justin Langer on the Ashes
19 Aug 09 |  Cricket
Justin Langer column
05 Aug 09 |  Cricket
Justin Langer column
29 Jul 09 |  Cricket
Justin Langer column
13 Jul 09 |  Cricket
Australia in England 2009
20 Sep 09 |  England


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