As England cricket supporters contemplate with resignation a slide down the international Test rankings, they might like to reflect on the confirmation of the old order. Australia remain the best side in the world, with the rest nowhere.

After hammering India at Melbourne over Christmas, they start today's Sydney Test just one away from equalling the record of 16 wins in a row from 1999-2001.

That was deemed to be one of the great sides, under Steve Waugh's captaincy, but many felt that with the passing of some wonderful players from that side, there would eventually be a semblance of parity with the others.

There's no sign of that so far. Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne may have gone but those who picked up the baton have performed with the familiar Australian attitude; astonishing competitiveness, wonderful athleticism in the field, relentless aggression and a fierce pride in performance.

When you see the captain, aged 33, batting and fielding with such panache, there is no doubt that Ricky Ponting is a proud keeper of the flame.

He may have lost Warne, McGrath, Damien Martyn and Justin Langer in this past year, but there is always a brash contender standing by, ready to claim a place and then he'll fight fiercely to stay in that team.

And the new players aren't exactly tyros. Stuart Clark is 30, but he's bided his time until McGrath retired, learning about reverse swing, crafty changes of pace and treating a half-volley as a rare foible.

Like Clark, Phil Jacques has learned his trade in English county cricket, hardening up his mental attitude. After taking over from the redoubtable Justin Langer, he has reeled off five fifties in a row, two of them converted to centuries. He looks an Aussie opener to the manor born.

Of course, Shane Warne is irreplaceable but the gifted maverick leg-spinner Stuart McGill has over 200 Test wickets. McGill's been missing recently from the Test side through injury, but in comes Brad Hogg, superficially only a competent bowler of left-arm spin, but - as he usually proves against England - not to be underrated.

Someone always steps up to the plate for Australia and their last three successive Test victories have been against Sri Lanka and India, who have prevailed comfortably against England in Test series over the past six months. Yet the Aussies have simply blown them away.

Nothing annoys a current England player more than lavish praise being offered to Australia.

Get used to it, lads. They set the standards while we wallow in complacency, wittering on about having the right players, yet suffering from too much cricket.

Australia have the right players and a fantastic attitude. They'll be at our throats again over here, the summer after next.

Anyone placing bets on the Ashes coming home?

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