Australia captain Ricky Ponting has come to the defence of embattled England cricket coach Duncan Fletcher and skipper Andrew Flintoff, claiming the harassment they are suffering after losing the Ashes is "harsh".

Fletcher and Flintoff were grilled by the media the day after losing the urn, with journalists questioning all elements of the team’s organisation - from the validity of their selection process to whether they should step down from their current roles.

But Ponting, speaking after arriving back in Sydney this morning to spend three days with his family before rejoining the Australian team in Melbourne for the Fourth Test, empathised with the English pair.

"There are 11 guys in the team, or the 13 guys in the squad, and it is very harsh just to blame the coach and captain," he said.

"But I know, especially after last year, what it is like as a leader, as a captain of a side, that when you lose a lot of the flak will come back on you.

"They haven’t played anywhere near as well as they would have liked but in saying that I think we haven’t given them the opportunity to play as well as they would have liked."

But Ponting stopped short of showing the opposition too much compassion. Although the initial task of winning back the Ashes has been achieved, the Australian skipper made it clear that the job was far from over.

Asked if he was looking for a 5-0 whitewash Ponting insisted that was the ultimate goal, but he also emphasised the need for his side to concentrate on one match at a time.

"I think we will look at 4-0 first and go from there," said Ponting. "It has been a wonderful four weeks for the side and we are pleased with the results so far.

"We have prepared for this as all good teams should prepare and it is a credit to the support staff and coaching staff around us who give us the opportunity to do so.

"But I said to the guys last night that I would be disappointed if we lost a Test from here, especially they way we are playing and the fact that we have England on the ropes."

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