Michael Clarke insists Australia's defiant effort in the drawn fifth Test against England proves they are ready to mount a strong challenge to regain the Ashes.
Clarke's team were beaten 3-0 in the five-Test series, failing to win a single Test in an Ashes series for the first time since their 3-0 loss in England in 1977. They have also gone nine Tests without a victory following a 4-0 loss in India earlier this year. But, despite that miserable sequence, Australia captain Clarke sees signs his much-maligned side are on the up.
It is Australia's performances over the last three Tests, where they were only denied victory by rain in Manchester, enjoyed dominant spells in defeat at Durham and then forced the pace at The Oval, that give Clarke belief that his players are improving quickly. And he sees no reason why Australia can't end England's run of three successive Ashes series victories in the return on home soil later this year.
"I certainly think we take a lot of positives, especially from the last three Tests," Clarke said.
"We would have won in Manchester if it didn't rain. We got close in Durham after being 150-1 batting last and without rain here on Saturday it would have been a great finish to the final Test. I'm really pleased with the boys. There have been some special personal achievements in the series. Shane Watson batted well in the first innings here and Chris Rogers and Steve Smith have scored Test hundreds. Our bowlers fought their backsides off the whole series, especially Ryan Harris, He got our player of the series and deserved it," Clarke said.
"When we get a win we will run with that momentum. We need to look at the whole series and areas where we can improve, but we will take a lot of confidence from the way we played in the last three Tests," he added.
Clarke did concede Australia's batsman, himself included, need to put more pressure on England with big first innings totals. They did just that at The Oval with 492-9 declared before dismissing England for 377 at the start of a thrilling final day.
Australia then smashed a quick 111 for 6 declared to set England 227, a target which the hosts almost reached before bad light brought a premature end to the match with the score on 206 for 5.
"If you look at the series, our batting is the area that has let us down," Clarke said. "In the first innings it needs to improve. The boys did that in this Test and I'm extremely pleased. We've seen some real positives from the guys in the group."
While Clarke was keen to talk up Australia's efforts, he acknowledged England were deserved winners over the course of the series.
"It doesn't matter how you play but the result is there, England won 3-0," he said. "There's always more than one way to skin a cat so they deserve credit for winning, Today we didn't have much to lose and England certainly deserve credit for the way they came out in the second innings and tried to win the game. That's good for cricket."
The fiery nature of a rancorous series almost boiled over during The Oval Test as Australian coach Darren Lehmann accused England bowler Stuart Broad of cheating when he failed to walk despite a clear edge at Trent Bridge, while several players were caught sledging. But Clarke says the nasty edge to the contest won't detract from his respect for England's players.
"Both teams are always competitive on the field. You are always going to get that," he said. You want to win, but once I get back in the changing room I will go and have a beer with the England players and congratulate them. It's part and parcel of our game. You fight tooth and nail and then show respect for them."