Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ashes win only the starting point - Andrew Strauss

England have arrived in South Africa for their two-and-a-half month tour with captain Andrew Strauss determined to build on his team's 2-1 victory in the Ashes during the summer. Strauss is especially keen for his team to stake its claim to the No. 1 Test ranking, an honour that currently belongs to South Africa.

"We've talked a lot about how winning the Ashes is not the end of the road, it's almost the starting point for us to improve," Strauss said. "We'd be lying if we didn't want to be the number one side in the world. But if you look at how the ranking system works it will take a number of years of solid progression from where we are at the moment and consistency is crucial. Ultimately it's about not taking our foot off the gas."

England were criticised for seemingly taking their foot off the gas after they won the Ashes in 2005. They had followed up that victory with a 2-0 drubbing in Pakistan.

"The perception of the post-2005 period is that we took our eye off the ball quite badly. I'm not comfortable with that myself," Strauss said. "I remember that Pakistan tour and how hard we worked at it. We had a number of very crucial injuries which didn't help.

"If you look at our performances over the last 12 months we're far from the genuine article and where we want to be. No one in the squad truly believes we've made it, we've got a long way to go. I want to see our players hungry and committed."

England are scheduled to play two Twenty20 internationals, five ODIs, and four Tests in South Africa and this will be their first Test series since Andrew Flintoff's retirement from the format. Flintoff, who is currently undergoing rehabilitation from surgery in Dubai, won't be available for the limited-overs formats either.

In Flintoff's absence, Stuart Broad, who was Man of the Match in the deciding Ashes Test at The Oval, is expected to perform the allrounder's role in the side but Strauss sought to play down the attention on the 24-year old. "It's not a realistic expectation for Broad to fill Flintoff's shoes in both disciplines in the short term. It would be wrong to heap that expectation on his shoulders," Strauss said.

"Over the years we've had to do without Flintoff quite often and what we've found is that we've done quite well by everyone taking responsibility and playing a bit better. Stuart Broad is not a like for like replacement for Flintoff anyway but he has his own set of skills, some of which are world class and some of which need work. We don't want him to be the saviour we turn to, we need all 11 to do that.

"Stuart has his head screwed on. There has been a lot of media attention on him but he realises that there's much room for him to improve. We're excited about him but the last thing I want to do is put a huge amount of expectation on his shoulders. You must give people room to improve and hopefully he'll continue that development this winter.

England begin their tour with a warm-up match against the Eagles on November 6 in Bloemfontein and have two more practice games ahead of the first Twenty20 international against South Africa in Johannesburg on November 13.

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