Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney January 2, 2011

Tight-knit unit eases Strauss's job


The challenge of leading England in Australia is traditionally one of the toughest assignments in cricket, but for Andrew Strauss the real task on this trip has been to manage the expectations of a squad that has more or less looked after itself on the field. As the fifth and final Test of an historic series approaches at Sydney, Strauss has once again called on his players to keep their feet on the ground, and ensure that a hard-earned series lead in translated into a memorable series win.

With the Ashes already in the bag thanks to England's thumping innings-and-157-run victory at the MCG, Strauss recognises there may be a temptation to relax going into the final week of the series. However, he is sure that England's focus will be back on the job after a brief burst of euphoria in Melbourne, and having turfed the team out of bed at 7.30am on New Year's Day for a 9 o'clock nets session, there will be no excuse for cobwebs come the start of the match on Monday morning.

"We had some quite big celebrations in Melbourne after winning the Test and rightly so because the guys deserved that," said Strauss. "But we got to Sydney and had a fairly moderate New Year if I'm honest. It's definitely a case of us keeping our feet on the ground and preparing for the Test match. There is no way we want Australia to win this Test match and draw this series. We are in a great position to win the series but we need to play well again this week. We don't want to slip into bad habits."

In keeping with their standard practice, England will name their 11 on the day of the match, with Paul Collingwood expected to retain his place in the middle order in spite of his poor run of form. Australia, however, have already confirmed that two debutants will line up in their side - Usman Khawaja at No. 3 and the spinner Michael Beer, who has been kept on ice ever since his shock call-up to the squad in Perth. "It is not any huge surprise," said Strauss. "But there will be some different challenges for us and we need to be well prepared."

By and large, that has been a given for England on this most meticulously planned tour. Aside from their shellacking in Perth, where their downfall was hastened by an inspired spell of bowling from Mitchell Johnson, they have been alert to the pitfalls presented in all situations, and quick to capitalize on any opportunity to claim the ascendancy. For Strauss, who had to overcome internal strife in the Caribbean during his first series at the helm in 2009, and external controversy against Pakistan last summer, the trip has been almost restful by comparison.

"It's certainly been one of the easier tours I've been on in regard to captaincy," he said. "We've not really had any issues off the park. We generally play good cricket. The biggest challenge has been to keep the guys' feet on the ground and make sure we don't get ahead of ourselves. If that's what you're worried about as captain, you know things are going your way.

"I wouldn't say it's been an easy tour," he added. "It's just that we have a tight unit, a bunch of guys who are all good mates, so you don't have any squabbles in the camp or things that are going wrong off the pitch that take time. And that doesn't surprise me because it's been the case for 12-18 months. What has been very re-assuring is generally our cricket's been good so we've had less to worry about too. But ultimately we've still got the end of this tour - this match and the one-dayers - so there's still plenty of time for us to be challenged."

It will doubtless help England's focus that the final week of the tour isn't actually upon them as yet. In Johannesburg last January, their innings defeat was sealed as the squad were preparing en masse to fly back to England, and in recent times they've suffered similarly crushing results in the final Tests of pre-Christmas trips to the subcontinent - such as Colombo in 2003-04, or Galle last time around, when they were bowled out for 81 on the opening day of the Test only to be saved by rain.

For Strauss, who had to overcome internal strife in the Caribbean during his first series at the helm in 2009, and external controversy against Pakistan last summer, the trip has been almost restful by comparison

"We're not in that position at the moment but there are other reasons for us to take our eye off the ball in this Test match and it's important we don't do that," said Strauss. "It is a lovely feeling to know the urn is coming back with us but it will leave a bitter taste in the mouth if we aren't able to play well this week. It is a big challenge for us because we have a lot of people patting us on the back and telling us how brilliant we are but the reality is that you are only as good as your next game. We have to really get stuck in here and make sure we play well again.

"If you look at our record we've been very good coming back after defeats, less good after wins so that's something we have to put right," he added. "Sometimes there's a reason for it, sometimes the other team just plays well and sometimes we need to put our hands up and say 'we weren't in the right place mentally to play that Test match'. We've talked about it a lot and the guys are very conscious about it. It's certainly about trying to get back to basics and get right on top of the opposition again."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • kannan on January 3, 2011, 6:07 GMT

    who is "nutcutlet" on cricinfo forum? i have been reading a few of his posts and find him/her very insightful and incisive with the comments; like getting it right about tremlett and backing strauss for captaincy early. of course, he was wrong about KP/ Cook, but then those only add to your acumen. judging by your comments, you are english. Hats off, mate.

  • Chris on January 2, 2011, 21:38 GMT

    3-1 and SA defeat against India would put England into second place in the ICC Test rankings - that's why there will be no letting the foot off the pedal here. ODI rankings can be looked at once the IMPORTANT business is over. I'm guessing that Saket Shriwas is an Indian supporter who is now starting to look rather worriedly over his shoulder...

  • Shanmugam on January 2, 2011, 20:37 GMT

    We did collapse in the first innings in Brisbane in addition to collapsing in both innings in Perth. Let's hope there are no such collapses in Sydney. If you want to be brutally honest, England are way ahead of this Aussie side including a new captain whose place as a batsman must be in doubt after his recent poor form, two newcomers (Khawaja and Beer) and several passengers (Hughes, Smith, Hilfenhaus) and inconsistent performers (Johnson, Siddle). England need to worry about Watson, Hussey and Haddin but compared to what previous England sides had to go through, that is a small worry.

    That is why we should not even think about resting key players in preparation of some meaningless ODI series or even the world cup. This is the Ashes and we have a great chance to win it 3-1, not just 2-1, leave alone taking back the urn with the series scoreline reading 2-2. Go England!

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2011, 20:19 GMT

    England must not drop Tim Bresnan for this match. Because he was the guy who turned the game on for England. He needs to continue today, if England bowls first. You can not drop such candidate who proves himself and his talent and skills in the big match when the opportunity knocks for him, he did not let the England down and feel regret on his inclusion. Yes i agree they can give chance to Morgan before VB series to get used to of these conditions. Collingwood`s medium pace bowling can be handy here though, with the likes of SYNDNEY`s Pitch. All the best to England to wrap up a series with 3-1 emphatic victory. Make the history which people will remember for a long long time. A MONUMENTAL test match and a master class performance by England today can turn the ASHES into a complete triumph for them and their country. Also leaves a strong message to other teams that they can be dangerous in the World cup race as well.

  • Martin on January 2, 2011, 17:41 GMT

    @ashes61; TOO RIGHT.....! I don't think England will trip over their own bootlaces on this Sydney test - but - you never know. I've been very impressed with the Strauss/Flower combo on this tour, very impressed indeed. Even the "reserves" have come in ready and fired up; Tremlett and Bresnan and BOTH played better than they have ever played for England before! Now that really takes some doing. It's certainly clicking for England - just need to finish off the job now.

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2011, 16:23 GMT

    Mr.Colingwood deserves a break...bring back Eoin Morgan and drop Bresnan for Monty ....something says, swann is gonna be the hero @ SCG...gud luck go for the kill and let Aus learn a lesson or two ~~

  • Paul on January 2, 2011, 16:21 GMT

    This Test represents an excellent opportunity to bring in Morgan to replace Collingwood as it would give Morgan valuable experience. Collingwood has little left to offer and Morgan clearly has a big future as an international cricketer.Here's keeping my fingers crossed.

  • Peter on January 2, 2011, 14:53 GMT

    CONTINUED: This might seem a parochial or insular view to take, and perhaps it is. Andy Flower is gradually trying to ween Eng off the idea that beating Aus is more important than aspiring to be the best in the world eventually. It would be wonderful if Eng manages to climb to the top of the ladder - but to any Eng cricketer nothing, absolutely nothing, beats hammering the Aussies in TESTS! So you'll have to allow us our historic kinship foibles. With regard to ODIs and Tests, however, there is no argument. Tests first; domestic 1st class (county, Ranji, Shield etc) second; ODIs (which are not 1st class, remember) a distant third at best. If they must play pyjamas, lets revert to the 3-game series at most, then get the squad home to rest & prepare for the Tests v. SL & India this summer. I suppose we're contracted to play in the W/Cup so must go, but Eng should keep the best players away & use reserves instead, thereby keeping our powder dry for May in England. And T20? Nowhere!

  • Peter on January 2, 2011, 14:29 GMT

    Saket Shriwas: With the greatest respect, I must ask "Was that a serious comment?" Were you really suggesting that 3 of Eng's key players - or, for that matter, ANY single player at all - should be rested from this crucial Test series decider??? And why? So that they are fresh for the pyjama antics coming up afterwards? Are you seriously suggesting that either the meaningless & endless pyjama games or the W/Cup have any relevance at all compared with the Ashes? All things being equal, I suppose it would be rather nice to do well in the W/Cup as opposed to going out early, but I can't imagine there is a single England cricket supporter anywhere who puts these pyjama games or W/Cup ANYWHERE NEAR a Test series v. Aus - or even any other Test series. (Yes, I know the Ashes are safe now, but this is a Test series decider - and in Australia!) Remember, Saket, Tests come way ahead of all other international cricket and, for us, Tests v. Aus ahead of all other opponents. Continued ...

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2011, 8:18 GMT

    I hope Eng give some rest to guys like Anderson and maybe someone in the Batting order like Bell.... and maybe Prior for this test. This should keep them fit for the upcoming World Cup and ofcourse the VB ODI Series. They should instead test their Bench strength by giving guys like Monty Panesar, Ajmal Sahazad and Eoin Morgan a look in...keeping them close to action will not leave them feeling rusted.

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