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Strauss seeks return to number one

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Little more than a year ago England faced a four-Test series against India with the prospect of being top of the International Cricket Council rankings at the end of it.

Then, few people considered they could achieve it over the course of that rubber and England themselves played down their chances of doing so. Yet they whitewashed India to usurp them at number one.

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of that triumph, meaning Andrew Strauss' side were two days short of a year at the summit when they were succeeded by South Africa yesterday.

The Proteas took a compelling contest at Lord's by 51 runs to seal a 2-0 triumph in the Investec Series. That made England's record at the top three Test wins, two draws and six defeats.

"It has been the case that we've lost a lot more than we would have wanted to," Strauss conceded.

"Whether that's because of a change of mind-set, from being the hunters to the ones that are hunted, I don't know.

"Or is it just that we came unstuck in the sub-continent, and lost a bit of confidence along the way? I don't know the exact answers right now. But those are the sort of questions we need to find answers to."

Andrew Strauss

"Maybe that tag of being number one hasn't sat as comfortably as it should have done with us" England captain Andrew Strauss said

India are England's next opponents, again over four Tests, albeit with home advantage from mid-November.

Another impressive result could see Strauss' men return to the summit, depending on the outcome of South Africa's series in Australia.

"Obviously, the mind-set switches straightaway again - to us being the 'hunters' - and maybe that suits us a bit better at the moment," Strauss added.

"That should give us the impetus and catalyst to go on and play some better cricket over the coming months."

Should England return to the top, Strauss hopes they have heeded lessons about defending the position.

"Maybe that tag of being number one hasn't sat as comfortably as it should have done with us, and that's an important thing to learn," he said.

"We haven't been in that situation before, and maybe we've learned from some mistakes and some important lessons on how we should approach it in the future. But obviously, our first priority is to get back in that situation."

To do that, Strauss immediately identified two areas for improvement, with South Africa's skills having highlighted England's deficiencies.

"The obvious thing to focus on is that our batting was below-par, comparatively to theirs', against a good bowling attack - and we dropped catches," Strauss admitted.

"In a three-Test series in particular, dropping those sort of catches against a good batting line-up can be the difference between winning and losing games.

"We've got to sit back and have a look at everything really - how we're training, everything we can control, can we do it better?"

Jacques Rudolph, Imran Tahir & Graeme Smith

"We need players that can come in and perform at the same level, which is the crucial aspect of maintaining this ranking," Graeme Smith explained

There is plenty of cause for optimism over England's batting, not least from Jonny Bairstow's runs at Lord's in his fourth Test.

The 22-year-old right-hander helped the hosts out of first-innings trouble with 95 and boosted their victory hopes with a pugnacious 47-ball 54 yesterday.

"It was fantastic to see a young guy coming through and showing the true extent of his talent," Strauss enthused.

"It was a very tough innings, very tough circumstances for him to come into the side firstly and then to come up against a very good bowling attack and play the way he did was a great testament to his character.

"We've all known he was a very talented cricketer, and now he's shown he's got the character to go alongside that talent - which should take him a long way."

Strauss admitted South Africa are deservedly number one for now, although he expects they will be challenged in the same way England were.

"They're a strong side. There are no obvious weaknesses in their side. They demonstrated that very capably over the three Tests," he said. "But they're going to have to deal with that change of mind set themselves now. They've some tough cricket coming up."

South Africa skipper Graeme Smith hopes his team will be ready for those hurdles.

"There are a lot of good teams around and different challenges we are going to face. Australia is the next as a Test team," he said.

"We have a formidable squad here at the moment that has performed outstandingly well and you need to grow that base of players; touchwood we don't have any injuries. But we need players that can come in and perform at the same level, which is the crucial aspect of maintaining this ranking.

"There is a real sense of happiness and excitement now, but also a calmness that we have achieved where we wanted to go and we want to carry it on. There is a belief that we can do that."

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