England v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Cardiff May 25, 2011

Strauss insists England won't dwell on Ashes


The last time England's Test cricketers were all gathered together on the same field of play was at Sydney four-and-a-half months ago, when the squad parked itself on the grass, close to the spot where Chris Tremlett had earlier dismissed Australia's No. 11 Michael Beer, and celebrated the retention of the Ashes with stubbies, cigars, and reminiscences of a job well done.

On Thursday in Cardiff the team picks up where it left off. Or at least, that is the intention. Stuart Law, Sri Lanka's interim coach, has described Andrew Strauss's Test team as the "toughest deal on the planet", and to judge from the way they obliterated Australia he may have a point. Nevertheless, that was then and this is now. The onus for England is to replicate that Ashes intensity, while at the same time drawing a line under that very achievement, and turning their eyes to the future. It's the sort of challenge that they've struggled to surmount in the past.

"It is the only way we can look at it, we have got to look forward," said Strauss. "We have got to learn lessons from what we did well in Australia and put those into practice again but our goals have shifted completely now. We achieved quite an important goal for us as a side to win out there in Australia but our goals now have turned towards this summer and beyond."

The challenge that awaits is, on the face of it, a routine one. Sri Lanka may have crushed England by 10 wickets in Colombo in their last meeting at the World Cup back in March, but the switch of formats and continents changes the dynamic significantly. Sri Lanka have not played a Test match outside of Asia since the tour of West Indies in April 2008, and with an untried captain in Tillakaratne Dilshan, and an under-rated bowling attack shorn of the retired Muttiah Muralitharan, the reluctant Lasith Malinga and even the uncapped Nuwan Pradeep, their immediate prospects are not the rosiest.

And yet, to under-estimate Sri Lanka is to invite embarrassment, as England have discovered all too often in recent meetings. Five years ago, in their first home series since the 2005 Ashes, England failed to close out a Lord's Test that they had dominated from day one, and ended up being mugged by Muralitharan on a spinning deck at Trent Bridge. Four years prior to that they were batted to a standstill by Marvan Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardene, and forced to follow on, while Jayawardene, who is returning for his fourth Test tour of England, is the sole survivor of Sri Lanka's finest hour in this country, the Oval Test victory of 1998.

Plenty of precedents of which to take note, then, and even on this current trip Sri Lanka have retained their capacity to surprise. Strauss himself ended up on the losing side for Middlesex at Uxbridge despite opening the match with a big hundred, while the England Lions suffered an even more remarkable set-back at Derby last week, when they were stunned by a final-day turnaround despite securing a first-innings lead of 227.

"They are a very good side," said Strauss. "In both games they have played they have come back from difficult positions in the match and come back to win those games. We will not be taking that lightly. They have got some very high-quality players in their ranks and we are under no illusions that we are going to have to be at our best to overcome their challenge."

Whatever early-season rust may exist for England, it is surely preferable to the end-of-odyssey exhaustion that afflicted the squad in the latter stages of the World Cup. Their replenished enthusiasm was evident as Strauss likened the reconvening to the "first day of school", but he stopped short of trumpeting the Cardiff Test as a homecoming for England's Ashes heroes. The Barmy Army have their own plans to honour the players for their efforts, but too much time and distance has elapsed for any self-congratulations.

"If we were going to have a homecoming that would have taken place a long time ago," said Strauss. "This is the start of a new cycle in a way. It is start of a very busy and difficult summer for us and it is obviously hopefully an opportunity for us to make a step forward to becoming No. 1 in the world. That excites us and I think for us to be thinking too much back to what happened in Sydney at this stage is not helpful."

This is the start of a new cycle in a way. It is start of a very busy and difficult summer for us and it is obviously hopefully an opportunity for us to make a step forward to becoming No. 1 in the world
Andrew Strauss on England's summer

Strauss himself intends to have plenty more opportunities to obsess about the Ashes in years to come, with the back-to-back series in 2013-14 his obvious end-game now that he has retired from one-day cricket. But as Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan proved at the tail-end of their own careers, the end when it comes can be swift and unforeseeable. All the more reason, therefore, to savour the here-and-now.

"With slightly less demands on my plate there is obviously a chance I could go on longer," he said. "I just know it is very dangerous to look too far in the future. All I can concentrate on is trying to do as well as I can for the time being, and mentally I feel very fresh. In a way it is quite a nice thing to concentrate on one format and make sure my game is in as good order as possible for one format, rather than drifting between all formats."

Come June and the start of the one-day leg of Sri Lanka's tour, Alastair Cook will be the man in the hot seat, as he seeks to justify his elevation to ODI captain despite not having featured in the side for almost 18 months. By then, however, he will have had three Tests to restate his run-scoring credentials, and while returns as prolific as his 766 runs in the Ashes might not come about every day, Strauss was confident that the forgotten hero of England's winter would settle back into the squad without a glitch.

"He's really pleased to be back among the group," said Strauss. "He's been away quite a long time and there's been quite a lot of water passed under the bridge since that Sydney Test match. He'll be really desperate to reconnect to what he was doing well in that Ashes series and there's no reason why he can't do that. We can't expect him to average 90 every series but if he can have a good series at the top of the order that makes it easier for the guys lower down."

Because of Paul Collingwood's retirement, it will not be a complete reunion for England, though the selections of Eoin Morgan and Steven Finn in the 12-man squad ensure a level of continuity that Sri Lanka cannot hope to replicate. The personnel who excelled in Australia are all present and correct. All that remains to be addressed is the attitude.

"If we drift into the summer and don't hit top gear straightaway, the No. 1 spot could seem like a long way off," said Strauss. "There's a lot of motivation now for us to take the next step. I will be very disappointed if any of the players are resting on their laurels or anything like that. But we need to hit ground running. There is no doubt about that."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Tushar on May 27, 2011, 9:21 GMT

    @popcorn - Why don't you look at the stats , about which team have lost the least matches ? BTW it is not about playing more test matches. Australia have played more matches, however they have lost more than they have won. Anyways, England are long way away. This bowling line up will not stand on subcontinent wickets. I am sure you have followed the WC 2011 !

  • Rajaram on May 26, 2011, 11:03 GMT

    THE ICC ranking system is a joke.India have NEVER won a series in Australia or South Africa,and hey're Number 1 ONLY ON THE BASIS OF NUMBER OF MATCHES PLAYED - NO WEIGHTAGE GIVEN TO AWAY MATCHES!

  • Tushar on May 26, 2011, 8:40 GMT

    One thing I have never failed to notice is no 1 ranking discussions. Everybody are talking about getting up the ladder and to be the no 1 test side. This debate has started since India is holding the honours (few years now). Strauss and Andy Flower are talking about it since Ashes... Sanga and Mahela were not happy the way ICC calculates the points .. they were arguing that India haven't won series in SA .. How come they are no 1..... almost everyone involved in Australian cricket.. (players, officials, commentators ) thinks that India won't retain it for long .... Nobody dared to say a word when Australia dominated for a decade and hold the no 1 ranking. So please, get on with cricket .. play good cricket and rankings will follow it course !

  • Manesh on May 26, 2011, 6:05 GMT

    Lanka's fortunes will depend on Sanga and Jayawardhane . Dilshan will be a flop.

  • Luke on May 26, 2011, 1:53 GMT

    On paper it's hard to see England losing any of the tests but it seems Sri Lanka can really fight back from difficult positions; something we (Aus) couldn't do last summer. This might well be a cracker of a series after all. Pak drew with WI (why do they play 2 test series?!), Aus plays Sri Lanka then South Africa - so good to see test cricket on again! Now I really wish I put in foxtel!

  • Liam on May 26, 2011, 0:36 GMT

    "... we are under no illusions that we are going to have to be at our best to overcome their challenge."

    Should be an easy series, then, Andrew!

  • Rtn on May 25, 2011, 22:28 GMT

    Does Stuart Law know that SL have never won a single Test in India, ever? Even when Murali, Malinga, Vaas were in their peak? Or that India defeated England away and literally thrashed them at home? Just because England defeated an Aussie side with no real pace or spin bowler does not mean they are the best in the world. For his SL team, the "toughest deal on the planet" is to win one, just one, Test match in India.

  • Prashant on May 25, 2011, 21:04 GMT

    Granted it's not the actual team, but I was surprised by how the Lions were defeated by the Lankans, despite the awesome centuries by Morgan and Patel. This isn't going to be a cake walk for England as how I initially thought it would be.

  • Martin on May 25, 2011, 19:48 GMT

    Stating the obvious I think....

  • Dru on May 25, 2011, 19:45 GMT

    For England it must feel like going through the motions ahead of India a shot at even more glory of the #1 spot. I must say Eng can only feel confident after all it was a long time since the Ashes were won down under. The loss of Collinwood is not really a loss after his Ashes flop so for England this should be a walk in the park.

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