The pain of being humiliated at home in the Ashes 12 months ago is still deeply ingrained in the Australians, who beat India 4-0 recently. (AP Photo)
Sydney: Only months ago, one-time powerhouse Australia were wallowing fifth in the Test rankings but now they are nudging India for third spot after the 4-0 series annihilation of MS Dhoni's men.
The pain of being humiliated at home in the Ashes 12 months ago is still deeply ingrained in the Australians and they are determined to get their act together for another tilt at number one ranked England some 500 days away.
Andrew Strauss's England comprehensively outplayed Australia in the 2010-11 series, inflicting an unprecedented three innings defeats on the home side to claim their second consecutive Ashes win. That prompted a major overhaul of Australian cricket and ushered in a new captain, new coach and a revamped selection panel with a view to restoring Australia to the top of world cricket.
Michael Clarke, who took over as captain from Ricky Ponting last March, is at the helm of a reinvigorated team, identifying new potential Test stars, revitalising the old stagers and working hard towards becoming number one again.
One-time top ranked India now shade Australia by only a decimal point in third place in the ICC Test rankings after crashing to four huge defeats in their ill-fated series Down Under. After his team's thumping 298-win in the fourth Test in Adelaide last weekend, Clarke was asked how he would rate Australia's chances if they had to play England next week.
"Fortunately, I don't have to worry about it. I wouldn't have a clue. I look forward to playing them when we get there but right now I'm just enjoying this success against India, to be honest," he said. "There's a long way to go before we have to play England and there's a lot of hard work we have to put in as a team before we even have to worry about that."
Australia struggled to dismiss England regularly in the Ashes, but against India the bowlers were a revelation. Under the influence of new bowling coach Craig McDermott, Ashes flops Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle were far and away the top bowlers of the India series, with 27 and 23 wickets respectively, while youngster James Pattinson took 11 wickets in two Tests before injury.
Pattinson has been fast-tracked into the Test side along with teenage speed merchant Patrick Cummins, who put in a Man-of-the-Match performance on debut against world number two South Africa in November, before suffering a foot injury.
After an Ashes series where Australia struggled to build a solid platform at the top of the innings, Twenty20 specialist David Warner has exploded onto the Test scene with two thumping centuries in his first five Tests as opener. Ed Cowan replaced the technically-flawed Philip Hughes in the other opening slot and averaged 34.33 with two half-centuries in the India series, while 162-Test veteran Ponting has enjoyed a sparkling return to form. But there is more ahead for the recharged Australians, says Clarke, who against India became the first skipper to score a triple century and a double hundred in the same series, and was justifiably named Man of the Series.
"We sit fourth on the ICC rankings. Right now we're not the number one Test team in the world, so it's about us trying to become better every single match," Clarke said. "We will continue like we have done my whole career to look at other teams and see their strengths and weaknesses and see where we can improve. That's been no different my whole career, whether we've been the number one team in the world or we sit in the number four spot. I think we're playing really well as a group, but we have a lot of work still to do to achieve what we want to achieve."
Clarke, who with new coach Mickey Arthur is now part of of the selection panel, said the 2010-11 debacle has fired the Australians to retrieve the Ashes in England in 2013.
"I think it (last summer's Ashes defeat) has played a part, it certainly has for me personally," he said. "We said and knew we had to do a lot of work to improve our games, both personally and as a team. It's obviously a very special feeling beating India 4-0, knowing that last summer I couldn't buy a run. It's a great feeling."
Before the Ashes in 2013, Australia face the West Indies away in March-April and South Africa and Sri Lanka at home next southern summer.