‘England’s greatest Tests lie ahead’

ENGLAND captain Andrew Strauss believes the current side has the potential to be even better than the iconic Ashes winners of 2005. Strauss, who scored two centuries in that landmark series, will lead the class of 2010 in Australia this winter as they look to retain the urn. And he says that it is how they fare in that series, and the World Cup early next year, that will determine whether their legacy eclipses that of their illustrious predecessors.

“I think this has the most potential of any England team I’ve played in,” Strauss told City A.M. “The 2005 side was a very strong side – a lot of players at the peak of their powers. But that side never got on a pitch again after that series. I think this team’s got potential to continue improving and there’s quite a lot of youth in our side so I think we can be a lot better than we are at the moment.”

Strauss has already tasted Ashes victory as captain, skippering the team to glory in a hard-fought series last year on home soil. Indeed, his tenure, and that of coach Andy Flower, has coincided with something of a boom in English cricket and they will travel to the southern hemisphere as favourites to beat Australia again. Not that he takes any notice.

“I’m proud in what the team has achieved over the last couple of years, certainly. I’m not proud of being a favourite going into the Ashes because it means nothing – it really does mean nothing,” he says.

“I’m proud of the way the team has developed, I’m proud of the way individual players have come through. Graeme Swann only played his first Test match in December ‘08, the likes of Ian Bell have really stood up to the plate, and we’ve seen the likes of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad develop incredibly.

“But the greatest tests lie ahead. There’s no doubt about it. An Ashes series away from home – it doesn’t get harder than that – and a World Cup – an event that England have performed poorly in in the past – we want to make amends for that. And at the end of this winter we’ll be in a much better place to measure exactly where we are as a side.”

BLUNT INSTRUMENTS

Measuring exactly where they are is precisely why Strauss is here at Lord’s to talk to City A.M. He is endorsing the FTI MVP rankings, a points-based system that factors in every run scored, wicket taken and catch held and is billed as a more accurate measure of performance than the blunt instruments of batting and bowling averages. Happily, Strauss sits atop of the England one-day table, while Swann leads the rankings overall, and the spinner – a huge Twitter fan – is not hiding the fact from his colleagues.

“Graeme Swann is at the top so you can imagine he has been letting everyone know that. I’m sure he will be tweeting about it at some stage,” he adds. “There is a bit of banter about it but we also recognise that cricket is such a form game. One day you’ll be top of the rankings, the next you’ll be right down the bottom.”

Which brings us on to Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook, two players who have endured disappointing seasons. Having two of your premier batsmen struggling for form is far from ideal preparation for an Ashes series, but Strauss is confident he has the strength in depth to compensate.

RETRIBUTION

“It’s not a major concern to me,” he says. “The game of cricket always throws up a batsman who’s struggling for form at one stage or another; you never get a situation where all of your batsmen are at the top of their form. So I’m very comfortable that they are world-class international players – their records say it and they’ll come through.

“I think we’ve got to prepare ourselves that over the course of the winter one or two of our players will have a tough time. The key is to minimise the number and for us to absorb the one guy who is struggling and make sure the rest of us do enough to keep winning consistently.”

Seven of the 16-man squad for this winter’s series, which starts next month, are veterans of the 2006-7 Ashes, and could be forgiven for shuddering at the thought of returning to the scene of that 5-0 whitewash.

But Strauss says: “I don’t think it’ll be on their minds. This tour is not retribution for what happened last time or anything like that. There were some lessons learned. Most of the team weren’t involved in it.

“Ultimately, we’re holding the Ashes at the moment and we still want to be holding the Ashes in six months’ time.”