Strauss and co raring to go
Andrew Strauss’ England are as ready as they will ever be for their date with destiny this winter.
Strauss has one more team talk to deliver before England take the field at the Gabba tomorrow in defence of the urn, and in the hope of overturning almost a quarter of a century of Ashes failure Down Under.
By universal agreement, their preparation - since arriving in Australia almost a month ago - could hardly have gone any better.
With two wins and much the better of a rain-affected draw from their three first-class matches, a settled first-choice team and no injuries, there appears to be barely a cloud on the horizon for the tourists.
The same cannot be said for the Brisbane skyline, persuading many that whoever wins the toss tomorrow might even consider bowling first as a viable option.
Strauss will confirm that decision only if and when he has to. In the meantime, his job is all about harnessing expectation and tensions for a group of players portrayed by many as the logical conquerors of Ricky Ponting’s hosts.
“We’re all just very keen to get amongst it now,” said the England captain. “It’s been a big build-up and obviously very exciting, the prospect of representing your country in an Ashes series - and we’re standing here on the edge of it.
“I don’t think we could be in a much better position than we are at the minute. We are used to winning and we’ve started the tour well.”
Strauss is well aware England’s chances are being talked up, and believes there is substance to the hype this time round.
“We have got a good opportunity, there’s no doubt about it,” he added. “We’ve started the tour well; we’re in a good place as a side.
“At the same time we recognise this is a tough assignment. Not many sides come out here and win.
"We understand the size of the challenge ahead of us. But we couldn’t be in a better place mentally to take it on.
“It’s going to take a lot of good cricket, some guys pulling out some good performances when it really matters, and guys digging pretty deep. But I’m fully confident we have the players able to do that.”
With passions sure to be running high, Strauss sees one of his primary responsibilities as ensuring his players retain the focus which has brought them such success in the last 18 months.
“We don’t want to get too emotional on that first morning,” he said. “It’s important you stick to the plans you have talked about before getting on the pitch.
“I think the guys are ready. But one of the biggest risks in a game that’s been built up is that guys get carried away with occasion.”
Strauss’ name has been on the lips of every Australian player over the past week, each time they have named their number one target.
He is unconcerned by that but knows he must stay strong at the crease - and away from it.
“You’d expect them to target the opening batsman, and they’ll be poring over footage trying to find weaknesses,” Strauss said. “If they want to let us know their plans before the series begins then that’s fine by me.
“We’ve all been through it before. I’ve had plenty of times when a bowler goes after me and I’m pretty comfortable with my technique in those situations.
"I’m happy having the attention on me if that’s how it needs to be.
“As captain, your general demeanour is important in situations like that first morning. People will look to the captain and see how he’s handling himself.
“That’s where experience is important, having played in a couple of Ashes series before and important games."