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January 13, 2010
For Andrew Strauss the final Test against South Africa is the type of contest that "gets the juices flowing" with the prospect of a significant series victory if England either win or draw at the Wanderers. Before the tour began he said that winning in South Africa would be a bigger challenge than the Ashes victory last year and England are one strong performance away from securing that achievement.
"If we did that it would be a very good tour and we would all be satisfied with our performance, but ultimately if we don't achieve that and it's 1-1 we will feel we let the opportunity slip," Strauss said. "At the end of the tour, a lot will be judged on whether we win this game or not. There's a lot riding on this game, it's the sort of game that gets the juices flowing and gets us all excited. It is quite easy to reconnect back to that Oval Test against Australia in similar circumstances and hopefully we can take confidence from how performed there."
Strauss's team hold a series lead despite having fewer world-class stars. With Kevin Pietersen out of form they don't have a batsman to match Jacques Kallis, while the bowling attack doesn't possess the menace of Dale Steyn. Until now, however, England have made up for that by bonding as a team and forging a spirit that has been noticeable throughout.
"I think we have made some strides forward in that regard," Strauss said. "But I think it is arrogant to assume that it's always going to be the case. It is something you have to work hard on and nurture and feel how important it is. It's great having a side full of 11 world-class players but you can also have a side that is greater than the sum of its parts if you get the environment right.
"It is hard to influence it other than having the right sort of people around and trying to foster it as much as you can. Trying to include players in as many things as possible rather than being top heavy with senior players, which I think we have been guilty of in the past."
It's easy to forget that it is only a year ago that Strauss took the helm after the fractious split between Pietersen and Peter Moores, when there were clearly cliques being formed within the squad, although this has often been denied. Now, the team occupies a united space where all the individual traits of the players are incorporated within the dressing room.
The absence of one larger-than-life allrounder has not gone unnoticed during the trip and Geoff Miller, the national selector, said last week that there won't be any guarantees on Andrew Flintoff's future place in the side should he recover fully from knee surgery. Strauss, for one, feels the team is better off now that it isn't so controlled by a core group of players.
"I just felt that three or four years ago there were three or four senior players who did a lot of talking in meetings and it made it harder for new guys," Strauss said. "It wasn't a conscious thing but it just happened that way. We've tried to be more inclusive of new players, not demand more of them but encourage them to say their piece, air their views and feel like they are an important cog in the machine. I personally feel that creates a better environment."
Whatever the formula that Strauss and Andy Flower have hit upon, it has left England on the brink of inflicting South Africa's second consecutive home series defeat. The hosts have said they will come out and play a positive brand of cricket and Strauss is also adamant that his team will hunt a victory even though a draw will suffice.
"We will be trying to win here and play in the same style that has been successful before," he said. "The only time it might affect you [being 1-0 up] is at the back end of the fifth day. If you go in with mindset of only needing to draw it is very dangerous, you get negative, hesitant, and you can hand momentum to opposition."