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Peter English at Edgbaston
July 27, 2009
Habits of a lifetime are difficult to change for Andrew Strauss, who despite England's strong Ashes position believes it's too dangerous to glance ahead. In past years, series involving these teams hadn't started before the predictions of convincing victories occurred, although those were usually made by players named Warne, McGrath or Waugh. Those Ashes heroes have left and England find themselves 1-0 ahead against Australia's weakest team in more than 20 years.
It is now the hosts with the momentum after their history-breaking win at Lord's, but not the faith to say in public what they privately believe. Australia are vulnerable, particularly with their mis-firing bowling, and despite losing Kevin Pietersen, the hosts will be boosted by the sort of crowd support not received since 2005. These strong feelings and omens have not moved Strauss, who would not allow himself to show the self-belief of England's former conquerors.
"I'm never confident enough to predict anything," he said. "It's a dangerous route to go down." When on top, some sides see further opportunities to gain an advantage, others see risk. Strauss's main aim in the lead-up to Thursday's third Test is to ward off complacency.
He said the Lord's Test was one of the best team performances he had been involved in with England. "You gain a huge amount of confidence winning an Ashes Test," he said. "I'm looking forward to this week, there will be a nice feeling in the camp. We can't let that feeling become a sense of complacency, it's something we've got to be very guarded against. We have three Tests to go, if we play three good Tests we've got the potential to win an Ashes series."
It all sounded very pleasant, just what an Australian would expect at an English sponsorship announcement. For the next four years Brit Insurance will appear on the team's shirts, but there is no assurance of further success. Not even from the captain.
"We are expecting an Aussie backlash and we expect this Test to be harder than the other two we've played," Strauss said. "We're excited about that, and we're excited to be ahead in an Ashes series, but we know that that can change quickly. If we're not right on, then there can problems."
He did tell his men not to take the foot off the pedal at Edgbaston and believed they had strong form in that department. "In the past five or six months there have been some good performances and we've been quite clinical when we've got on top," he said. "I was very confident we could get over the line [at Lord's], the key now is to go right back to first principles and how we set up the game."
Problems exist in the absence of Kevin Pietersen with an Achilles injury and the limping caused by Andrew Flintoff's right knee. Flintoff will bowl in the nets on Tuesday, when England will know whether his fitness will be an issue for the back-to-back Tests in Birmingham and Leeds. "At this stage we're very confident," Strauss said.
Ian Bell will take Pietersen's place at No. 4 to limit the disruptions to a team that will consider bringing in Steve Harmison on a pitch threatening to be underprepared. A report has suggested Harmison will join Flintoff in retirement at the end of the series, but he currently has not played a match and his best chance will occur if Flintoff is injured. Strauss had heard nothing about Harmison walking away and is not concerned about the pitch.
He is more worried about Australia's attack, which is wobbling more than a toddler. After years spent facing Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, England's batsmen have their easiest task for two decades. "It's dangerous to make those assumptions after two Tests," Strauss said. "We've played on two very flat pitches and things this week might be completely different. Whenever you play an Australian side they are always strong. They may not have Warne or McGrath, but they look pretty good." Danger lurks everywhere, apparently.
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