Former Test captain Neil Harvey believes Australian cricket's decline following the humiliating Ashes defeat against England is the worst after Kerry Packer robbed the team of its top talent in the late 1970s.
Harvey was chairman of Australia's selection panel when Packer's privately contracted World Series Cricket split the game in two in a row over television rights.
"One minute I had a Test team and the next day I had nobody," said Harvey, who featured in 79 Tests for Australia from 1948-1969.
"I can safely say I have never seen an Australian team go backwards so quickly. I can go back to my time as chairman of selectors when Kerry Packer started this one-day stuff out here. So we are basically starting again," Harvey was quoted as saying by the Australian Associated Press.
Harvey, a left-handed batsman who captained Australia once in England in 1961, compared the depleted team of the 1970s and today's Australian team following the retirement of of greats such as spinner Shane Warne, paceman Glenn McGrath, wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist and opening bat Matthew Hayden in recent years.
"That's the disappointing part about these past couple of years. Ever since the Lord's Test in 2009 we have declined rather rapidly, and I'm afraid it hasn't stopped yet. We've got a lot of work to do. They've got to bite the bullet and start afresh," the Australian said as he watched Andrew Strauss's men inch closer in their pursuit of a 3-1 Ashes victory in the fifth and final Test.
Harvey said injured captain Ricky Ponting's time is up as a leader and he should step down in the larger interest of the team.
"Ponting thinks he's going to England at 38 years of age. I wouldn't bet him to make too many runs. I think it would be a good idea to give it a miss. We've got too many old blokes in the side. I know a couple of them are doing ok with the bat but their time has got to be up, really," he said.
Harvey, however, exuded confidence that with fresh talent around, it won't take long for Australia to make a strong comeback.
"This country is so gifted in sports people that it didn't take us all that long to recover, probably two or three years. So it won't take us long to get back again," he said.