England captain Joe Root has hit back at Ricky Ponting, insisting he has not led his team like a "little boy" and can be assertive when required.
Ponting, the former Australian captain, has declared Root needs to "step up big time" and claimed he had been "too shy" in his post-match press conferences.
Trailing 3-0 and facing a whitewash in his maiden Ashes series, Root has had plenty to deal with on and off the field. It has been a learning experience but one he said was handling in the manner required, heading into the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.
"He [Ponting] is entitled to his opinion but he doesn't spend any time in our dressing room and he doesn't spend much time around the squad," Root said after a light training session on Christmas Day.
"I am, obviously, going to disagree with that. I am sure if you asked any of the guys in the camp, any of the coaches or the support staff or the players, they would back me up on that as well."
Root, who has been in the top job for less than a year, is said to have remained "cheeky" and "chirpy" among his teammates.
"I don't think I go about things as a little boy. For sure, I have my own way of doing things," Root said.
"I think it's important that you don't try and be something you are not but I know there are occasions where you might have to be quite strong in front of the group, in front of the whole group. I might not appear to do that out on the field but there are certainly times when I know I can do that and I have done that."
Ponting's comments came after the tourists were thumped in Perth, with the Ashes conceded despite two Tests remaining.
"Even how he is addressing the media - I know he is not too forthright or too on the front foot [by nature], but the way he addressed things last week, it just seemed he was really quiet and too shy to say too much. I think they need him to step up big time," Ponting, who captained Australia in 77 Tests, said.
"The way he answered a lot of the questions after the game last week, and almost the Brisbane game as well, he seemed almost like a little boy. You need to be more than that as a leader, especially when things aren't going well. Even if it is not natural to you, sometimes you have to put on a different face and stand up for what you think is right and what you believe in. Not only inside the dressing room but outside it as well. For me, it just looks like it has been a little bit soft, if anything."
Root has had a poor series with the bat (176 runs at 29.33) but hopes to turn that around on what is expected to be a typical MCG deck set to yield plenty of runs.
The tourists need Root and former captain Alastair Cook to rebound. While less heralded batsmen Mark Stoneman, James Vince and Dawid Malan have had their moments, Cook and Root have failed to be the rocks England needed if they were to claim victory on foreign shores.
This has led to Australia's average score per wicket being 46.24 compared to England's 26.30. England's batsmen have shared in only two century stands - Malan and Jonny Bairstow's 237 in Perth and 125 by Stoneman and Vince in Brisbane.
The tourists have made one change for Melbourne, with uncapped South African-born quick Tom Curran replacing the injured Craig Overton (ribs).
"Tom offers a lot. I think he is a real competitor. He has got that similar work ethic and the way he goes about things is similar to Craig, actually. He has always wanted to get into the contest," Root said.
"You know that you are always going to get absolutely everything out of him. He is also very skilful and, hopefully, he can have a really good work here."
The tourists have backed spearheads James Anderson and Stuart Broad to provide the leadership they need with the ball. Broad is coming off the terrible figures of 0-142 in Perth, and has been nursing a left knee problem. Former England captain Michael Vaughan had even questioned whether Broad should have been dropped, for he has only five wickets at a miserable 61.8 through the campaign.
Anderson has been England's top wicket-taker with 12 at 25.83 but hasn't been able to consistently strike at key times.
Root said paceman Mark Wood had also been under consideration but had yet to show he had returned to full fitness after joining the tour late.
While the mood of the touring squad could have been rocked by the series result, Root insisted he and his team remained focused on ending the campaign with something to cheer about. He said his team had been "out-skilled" and beaten in the big moments whether that be with bat or ball.
"Since we got back into training, it has been a lot easier actually, getting the head around this game and knowing how much is still on the line for us, what we still need to do to come away with some good stuff from this tour," he said.
"The attitude from the guys has been very good around practice and they are fully aware of all of the stuff that is still on the table for us to gain from this trip. An opportunity to play in the Boxing Day Test match, in front of 90,000 people, I think speaks for itself. There is plenty to play for, making sure that we leave this trip with a couple of wins under our belt."
He said Anderson's comments that Australia's attack outside of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins was weak were "irrelevant" because the "damage has sort of been done".