James Anderson, the England fast bowler, has admitted the pressure that comes with defending their No. 1 Test status is something the team is still "coming to terms with".
England lost by an innings at The Oval in the first Test of their series against South Africa, which will decide the top ranking. After overtaking India during last summer's 4-0 whitewashing, England have now lost five of their last nine Tests and although a draw against South Africa will keep them at No. 1, their tenure has been far from convincing.
England only managed to take two wickets in 189 overs at The Oval, whilst being bowled out twice, with the difference between runs per wicket for each side the biggest in Test history. South Africa can seal the series with victory in the second Test at Headingley, starting on August 2, but Anderson said England will strive to make sure their performance matches up to what is expected of the top team in Tests.
"When you're trying to become number one in the world, you're trying to chase everyone else down and now we're the ones being chased," Anderson told the Evening Standard. "So it's a different position we're in and maybe we've not quite come to terms with that yet.
"It's a different challenge that comes with different pressures. People expect you to win and to play well every week and, in reality, that's not going to happen. You're going to have days or weeks where you're not quite on top of your game and unfortunately, this was one of those weeks. We'll just have to make sure we come back strongly.
"It was our goal for a number of years to get to the top of the rankings and when you get there, you want to stay there. We know if we lose the series, we won't stay there. People expect you to play as the number one team in the world and we didn't do that this week."
Anderson said that England's batsmen could learn from the performances of Jacques Kallies, who scored an unbeaten 182, and Hashim Amla, whose triple-hundred was the first in Tests by a South African. The bowlers would also attempt to replicate the "intent and aggression" shown by South Africa's attack.
"We're a very good unit when we're aggressive and in batsmen's faces and we probably didn't do that as well as we could, even if it's hard to be aggressive when you're bowling at two guys who have scored hundreds," Anderson said.
Ian Bell has spoken of the need for England's players to discuss what went wrong during the first Test and Anderson reiterated that the squad would be frank with each other in trying to improve their showing in Leeds.
"We're an open and honest dressing room and we're critical of each other, constructively," he said. "After a game like that, everyone is encouraged to speak their mind and there is no bullshit.
"It's something Andy Flower brought in when he became coach and it's something that's helped us improve. Andy encourages everyone to speak, whether they have played one Test or 100. When I started playing, that wasn't the case. There would be a few senior voices in the dressing room and that would be it, and maybe that's why we weren't as successful then.
"Now the honesty we have and the respect we have for each other means that when someone speaks, everyone listens, no matter who they are. We don't sit there for hours talking drivel. It could be 10 minutes, it could be half an hour but then it's done. You move on and you focus on what you can do better at Headingley."
England have announced ahead of the second Test that the fast bowlers Steven Finn and Graham Onions will be available for Middlesex and Durham, respectively, in their Championship matches starting on Friday. Ravi Bopara, the current incumbent at No. 6, can play for Essex against Worcestershire in the CB40 on Sunday, the same day that England will name their squad for Headingley.