MELBOURNE: Fallen power Australia are not even thinking about a return to the top of the test rankings, according to coach Tim Nielsen, as the team seek to rebuild following their humiliating Ashes defeat to England.
The World Cup quarter-finalists remain top dogs in the one-day game but have slipped to fifth in test rankings behind India, South Africa, England and Sri Lanka after their 3-1 loss on home soil in the five-test Ashes at the turn of the year.
The team's slide has placed Nielsen under pressure and offered the once-unthinkable prospect of Australia being excluded from the top four to contest the inaugural test world championship in 2013.
Nielsen, heavily criticised for failing to arrest the team's decline, said his focus was purely on preparing his players for next month's tour to Sri Lanka, where they will play three tests, along with two Twenty20 matches and five one-dayers.
“We are not even thinking about number one,” he told local reporters on Tuesday.
“To get to number four then number three (and so on) in the test rankings and maintain our hold on the number one ranking in one-day cricket, we need our players to be as consistent as they can be.
“To prepare the team for Sri Lanka is my only worry at the moment.”
Nielsen, dubbed “Teflon Tim” by local media after he was given a three-year contract extension months before the Ashes debacle, is included in a comprehensive review by Cricket Australia launched earlier this year.
The review, aimed at seeking answers for Australia's fall from grace and setting a springboard for the test side's return to the top, will be finished and its findings released in the second half of the year.
Nielsen's record since taking over from John Buchanan in 2007 has suffered in comparison with that of his predecessor, who presided over the all-conquering teams that boasted the likes of wicket-taking machines Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.
The 43-year-old said public criticism had hurt in the wake of the Ashes defeat but conceded he had been out-pointed by England coach Andy Flower, widely credited for master-minding his side's triumph in partnership with captain Andrew Strauss.
“You don't like it, being singled out... let's be honest,” he said.
“It is hard at times, but when we play like the Ashes you stand up and cop it on the chin, just like the players on the field.”
“There was a lot of talk about being out-coached in the Ashes and it is hard to argue with that.
“If (criticism) doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger.”