'Ashes the ultimate goal' - Mickey Arthur
Mickey Arthur, the Australia coach, believes his side have progressed further than he expected them to at the moment as they work towards their twin long-term goals of regaining the Ashes and becoming the world's No.1-ranked side again.
Regaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Perth was a positive step for Australia, although Michael Clarke, the captain, said after the victory that his side had much left to achieve.
But the emergence this summer of new Test players like David Warner, James Pattinson and Ed Cowan, as well as the improvement shown by more experienced men like Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle, has impressed Arthur and Clarke. Since Arthur took over as coach ahead of December's series against New Zealand, Australia have won four Tests and lost one, and the performances of the newer members of the side have pleased him.
"I've been hugely impressed by the leadership of Michael Clarke," Arthur said. "I've been hugely impressed by the way the players have embraced what we wanted to do. I do think we're a little bit ahead of where I thought we'd be at this particular time. But as I said when I took the job, Australian cricket is in a very healthy place."
Australia's immediate goal is to complete a 4-0 demolition of India when the teams head to Adelaide for next week's final Test. That will be followed by a Test tour of the West Indies, but Arthur said the plan was for this Australian group to continue building towards the 2013 Ashes series in England, when Australia will try to regain the urn for the first time since losing it in 2009.
"It [the Ashes] is the ultimate goal," Arthur said. "Every series for us is big along the way. As I said after Sydney, we've prioritised series. This Indian series was a world championship cricket series for us. The South African series here, early next summer, is going to be a huge series and you know we need to be able to win those series against those types of opponents, opponents ranked higher than us in the world in order to go back to England and challenge.
"I guess winning back the Ashes is at the forefront of everybody's mind and I'd be lying if I didn't say that we're trying to build a really competitive team to go back and win them in 2013. But not at the detriment of any other series because all those other series are very important to us."
One of the most impressive aspects of Australia's success against India has been the way their bowlers have suffocated the visitors with a constant build-up of pressure. Hilfenhaus has developed into a bowler who can swing the ball late and has taken 23 wickets in three Tests as a result, while Siddle, Pattinson, Ryan Harris and Mitchell Starc have all had success thanks to their strong work together.
That has been a significant change from the Australian attack that was humiliated by England last summer, when the batsmen knew they would not have to wait long for a loose ball or a bad over. The work of the bowling coach Craig McDermott has been important behind the scenes, but Arthur praised the ability of the bowlers to put McDermott's advice into action.
"As much as you bat in partnerships, you bowl in partnerships," Arthur said. "It's about having the ability to stop the game. It's about having the ability to build pressure, because pressure takes wickets. That's been our mantra in the dressing room. The bowling partnerships that the guys have employed all summer, really, have been outstanding.
"I just look back at the work of Peter Siddle [in Melbourne and Sydney]. James Pattinson bowled outstandingly well and got all the rewards, but he needed a Peter Siddle at the other end stopping the game as well. Siddle and Pattinson were tremendous together. That's been our mantra. That's how you build pressure, and pressure equals wickets. We've been able to execute that for long periods of time."