SYDNEY, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Australia hailed the most complete Ashes triumph in nearly 137 years of cricketing rivalry with England on Monday, the media paying tribute to the “unlikely heroes” who claimed a 5-0 series sweep.
“Legends”, read the banner headline on the front page of the popular Daily Telegraph, “How sweet it is” splashed the Sydney Morning Herald, while The Australian went with “‘Unchangeables’ begin new era with whitewash”.
Despite being only the third such Ashes sweep, there is a recognition inside and outside the team camp that the current Australia line-up cannot yet be compared with the last team to do it, Ricky Ponting’s star-studded 2006-7 outfit.
While that team featured the likes of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist, Michael Clarke’s party is largely made up of rejuvenated veterans like Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin and honest triers like Peter Siddle and Chris Rogers.
“This five-test whitewash was special because nothing remotely similar was expected of this lot,” Peter Lalor wrote on the front page of the Australian.
“In 2006-07 a team of champions did as champions do, while in 2013-14 a group of good cricketers touched greatness.”
It was a triumph born in pace bowling with Johnson, Ryan Harris and Siddle helping Australia, unchanged for all five tests, achieve what the 1920-21 and the 2006-7 teams could not manage - take all 100 England wickets for the first time.
“The spine will tingle even as the memory fades,” Malcolm Knox wrote in the Herald of a series which he said would be long remembered.
”There has been one common refrain: that shiver of excitement when Australia’s fast bowlers get going.
”Misty-eyed veterans talk of Lillee and Thomson, or Lindwall and Miller.
“Since the original whitewash, in 1920-21, the summer of Jack Gregory and Ted McDonald, the dangerous thrill of very fast bowling has been the animating spirit of Australian cricket.”
The triumph moved Australia up to third from fifth in the test rankings and captain Clarke said he thought they had the talent to fulfil his long-stated ambition of returning to the summit, even it would be a hard road.
That road starts at the end of the month when they head to South Africa to take on the current world number one team in a three test series.
”There is no easy cricket,“ Clarke said after the 281-run victory at the Sydney Cricket Ground. ”It’s hard in your backyard and it seems to be harder away from home so we have a lot of work to do.
”I believe we have the team to get success no matter where we play as long as we continue to play the way we’re playing and if we continue to work as hard as we’ve been working in preparation to become better players and a better team.
”We’re not going to win in South Africa and suddenly think we’re the best team in the world. It’s about consistency home and away over a long period of time.
“If you do that, you’ll get the results you’re after.”
Darren Lehmann, who has been integral to the transformation of the team since he took over from the sacked Micky Arthur after a 4-0 defeat in India, has already identified one area that will need improvement.
Australia needed wicketkeeper Haddin, batting at number seven, to ride to the rescue after the top order failed in the first innings of all five tests.
“We come up against South Africa away from home and we have to certainly improve our first innings batting,” Lehmann said.
”If you want to be the side we want to be we have to win away from home. Simple as that.
”We haven’t done it for a while so from our point of view we have to start to win in different conditions that are difficult against quality opposition.
“We need to improve and raise the bar.”
The players will have two days to enjoy their victory, including a public celebration outside Sydney Opera House on Tuesday, before they begin preparations for the one-day series against England and then South Africa.
“Is this a great Australian team? The South African tour will provide a tough, perhaps sobering test,” Richard Hinds wrote in the Telegraph.
“For now, it is a team that has performed great deeds with tremendous spirit and that is more than enough.” (Editing by Patrick Johnston)