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December 29, 2010
England will savour their Melbourne celebrations after retaining the Ashes with a crushing success, but Andrew Strauss insisted there was still much work to do to reach their ultimate aim of being the No. 1 side in the world. Test victories don't come much more comprehensive than an innings-and-157-run demolition, yet Strauss was at pains to stress his players won't see it as mission accomplished.
Their first task is to ensure Australia don't level the series in Sydney, but both Strauss and Andy Flower, the England coach, have repeatedly said that this Ashes series is just another stepping stone in a much longer path for the team towards the summit of the world game. Even little more than an hour after Tim Bresnan removed Ben Hilfenhaus to seal victory at the MCG, Strauss was outlining the challenges ahead.
"Our objective was to come out here and win the series," Strauss said. "We have not achieved that yet. It is reassuring to know the Ashes are going to remain in England for another couple of years, but it will leave a very sour taste in the mouth if we are not able to go on and convert our position into a series win in Sydney. We should enjoy tonight and rightly so, but it is back to square one for Sydney.
"In reality the job is a long way off being done," he added. "This is one series and as a side we have still got a lot of goals we want to achieve. English cricket is not just about winning the Ashes. We have to look forward to the future and get our team up those rankings and to be the world's number one at some stage. That is the ultimate goal for us and we have to take a lot of small steps on the way to doing that including India next summer is an important step on that way. I get the feeling we can still improve as a side and that is very motivating."
Unlike in 2005, the last time England closed in on becoming the best, the 2010 vintage is a side that should remain together for the foreseeable future with the possible exception of Paul Collingwood. Michael Vaughan's unit five years ago was broken apart by injuries, which can't be planned for, but there was also the feeling that Ashes success was an end-game whereas for Strauss the triumphs have come as part of a developing side.
There is also an increasing amount of depth in the England squad - Flower has always said it takes a squad to win Test series, not a side - which bodes well for the future. When injuries came post 2005, players who weren't ready for international cricket such as Liam Plunkett and Sajid Mahmood were thrown in at the deep end. Now Strauss and Flower are able to call on Bresnan and Chris Tremlett, while Steven Finn has already learnt plenty and Ajmal Shahzad is waiting in the wings. When Stuart Broad returns from injury it will be a tough decision who is left out.
"I always thought there was a huge amount of talent at our disposal," Strauss said. "Maybe we didn't realise quite how much there was. The likes of Tremlett, Shahzad, Bresnan and Trotty. Maybe we did not realise how much talent there was in county cricket. Those guys have stood up and delivered and we feel like there is no reason why we can't go on and do better things. But if we get away from what has got us here - hard work and sticking to basics - and start patting ourselves on back too much then we are going to go backwards. It is a stark reminder for us that there is a lot more hard work for us to do."
England turned into a laughing stock the last time they were in Australia ended and were whitewashed, then two years later lost a captain and coach on the same day when the relationship between Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores broke down. It was a low ebb, quickly followed by being rolled for 51 in Jamaica, but from then on the climb has been steady, albeit not without the occasional stumble such as Perth or Headingley.
However, despite becoming the first England team in 24 years to retain the Ashes down under, Strauss said that as long as he remains an international cricketer he won't stop striving for better. "While you are still involved with England side, if you are not looking to push forward then there is something wrong there."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at CricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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