Strauss wants Ashes in perspective
After a week of bluster and hyperbole, it fell to Andrew Strauss to provide the sense of perspective required ahead of the Investec Ashes series.
Strauss, England's new director of England cricket, was at the Kia Oval to promote a charity match in which he will captain a team. And as he looked around the room to see some of the injured servicemen who he will represent in his Help for Heroes side, the talk of "war" and "battle" that so often precedes the Ashes was given a sobering slant.
Help for Heroes is a charity that aims to help those injured in real wars. The match, on September 17, will involve some of the world's most high-profile players (Brian Lara, Graeme Smith, Matthew Hayden and Graeme Swann are among those confirmed to play) and will raise funds for those facing a lifelong fight to live with their battle scars. It was a reminder of sport's ability to heal and help, but also of its relative triviality.
"It makes you realise that the Ashes is not about life and death," Strauss said. "It's a game of cricket. It's a number of games of cricket between two very passionate sides who desperately want to win.
"We don't need to build it into something it's not. Ultimately our team are going to be very focussed to go out there and beat Australia, as every team that's represented England will do so. But that kind of war rhetoric when it comes to the Ashes is unhelpful. The players should be competitive, they should stand up to each other and play in the right sort of spirit, and if we do so it will be a great advertisement for the game of cricket."
But nobody should mistake Strauss' sense of proportion with any lack of desire to win the Ashes. While there has been much talk of late that the style of cricket played by England will be almost as important as the result, Strauss is not convinced. Certainly, he dismissed the idea that the victorious England side of 2013 struggled to win over everyone due to any lack of style.
"The reason people weren't all that impressed in 2013 was because they'd got very used to us winning Ashes series," he said. "Ultimately, it's very hard to come out of an Ashes series as a loser and be pretty happy with yourself. It is about winning and losing, as professional sport is generally.
"But I do think everyone involved in English cricket got a real lift from the two series against New Zealand. They got a lift from the way those games were played and the type of cricket England played. It made us all appreciate and understand the importance of engaging with the public.
"Ultimately we are in the entertainment business and people have a choice whether they turn on cricket on television or go and watch a cricket match or do something different. We've got an obligation to make the product one that people want to watch."
Strauss has maintained a relatively low profile this summer. Despite taking some major decisions - notably the replacement of the England coach - this was the first open press conference he had held since the day of his appointment. Even now, he was only persuaded to do so by the boost to the charity event his profile guarantees. As he put it: "If I can use the higher profile of my new role to blatantly engender more publicity for this game, then I will have no hesitation in doing so."
While Strauss' attention has, understandably, been on the recruitment of Trevor Bayliss as coach - Strauss admits he only learned about him when he was linked to the job at the time Peter Moores was reappointed and that, the more he found out, the more impressed he was - it is clear his plans are starting to take on more long-term projects.
Notably, the national academy at Loughborough is about to undergo a review, while it seems inevitable that an announcement into the restructure of county cricket will be made by the end of the year. The current likelihood is that each county will play 12 Championship matches (they currently play 16) and that the domestic T20 tournament will be played a month or so later than it is at present.
"I think there's a general feeling that Loughborough isn't producing," Strauss admitted. "But I don't think people were saying that two or three years ago when we were top of the world rankings. It's also very difficult to measure the impact because all the good players go through there and go on to play for England.
"I have spent a lot of time there since I took over the job. There is a lot of good and hard work goes on there but there are areas we need to look at and see what we can do better. It's not a process that's starts and finishes in a couple of weeks.
"And yes, we have to find a way of creating a different structure for the domestic competitions. There isn't any cricketer who goes through the full season that feels like we are giving ourselves the best chance of producing England players in the various formats with the structure we have at the moment.
"Personally I think there needs to be some change but whatever change that is implemented has to appeal to a wide array of people and it has to definitely be better than what we have at the moment."
The process of national selection is already under review. "I am sitting on selection," Strauss said. "But I don't have a vote. The process will continue as it has done, but it is an area I am looking at and doing a bit of a review of whether it is the best possible structure going forwards. I think there are some issues about responsibility and accountability which need to be flushed."
Tickets to the game (Help for Heroes XI A Rest of the World XI) cost £20 for adults and £1 for U16s. Ticket proceeds will be donated to Help for Heroes. Tickets can be bought from here.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo