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Peter English in Cardiff
July 7, 2009
Andrew Strauss has faith in his squad to prevail in the most intense moments over the next two months and believes the team's courage and character will lead England to Ashes glory. England won the major battles during the gripping 2005 series but lost them throughout the 5-0 defeat in Australia in 2006-07.
England's squad contains eight players who were on that demoralising tour, but Strauss has seen enough of his men during back-to-back series against West Indies to know they can cope with anything from Australia. "The key to this series is how you handle those pressure moments and there are going to be plenty of them," he said.
"They will be a test of character and a bit of a test of courage and a bit of test of technique. You've got to be prepared for that and mentally switched on and off to come out the other side and apply the pressure on the opposition."
Strauss, who was part of both the previous Ashes series, said he was very confident of success in the five-match series and his men were ready "to put the Aussies under pressure". "I'm very happy with the characters we've got in the side, all 11 of them have shown before they can handle those situations," he said.
"An Ashes series is slightly different, we've only had probably half our team play an Ashes series before, but for the guys coming in there is an opportunity to show they can do it. I've got very few concerns in my own head that there are any weak links there and that's encouraging."
While England's preparation for the series has gone smoothly, their opponents have lost Brett Lee for the opening two Tests with a stomach strain. Lee was outstanding during the tour game last week with his high-speed reverse-swing and Strauss said one of Australia's attacking options had been disabled.
"No-one likes to see people injured and I'm sure he'll be mortified," Strauss said. "I feel for him. Also, when you play a team you want to play their strongest XI. In that respect I feel for him, but at this stage of our preparation we don't want to worry what is happening in their camp."
Lee's injury means that whatever combination Australia go with, they will not have a specialist bowler with Ashes experience in England. Strauss said it could be a disadvantage for the tourists.
"English conditions are very different to Australian conditions and that's one of the big pluses going for us," he said. "Neither side has played here before and maybe that's negated it to a certain extent. But in our conditions, that's a big advantage."
Australia also have a couple of batsmen who have missed out in the tour games, with Ricky Ponting scoring 1 and 15 in Worcester and Phillip Hughes falling twice to Steve Harmison bouncers. "It's always good when opposition batsmen are searching for form, you have an opportunity," Strauss said.
He expected Ponting to hit back and was pleased that Hughes, who he watched make a century with Middlesex earlier in the season, would be distracted by his problems with the short ball. "Steve Harmison has got the ability to do that to most batsmen so it didn't overly surprise me," he said of Hughes' dismissals against the England Lions.
"It's a good thing that he's thinking about it over these days, but good players are able to make adjustments and I'm sure he's been working hard on it. It's obviously an area we can look to exploit but there are other areas we can look to exploit as well."
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?