Strauss: We've raised the bar
Captain Andrew Strauss believes England have become victims of their own success as they continue on their mission to be the best team in the world.
The manner of their Ashes triumph in Australia over the winter – all three Test wins came by an innings – prompted Strauss and his players to turn their attention towards life at the top of the International Cricket Council rankings.
The drawn second npower Test against Sri Lanka forced a slight rethink, if not from Strauss then from the more impatient supporters and pundits.
The outcome at Lord’s means England can no longer reach the summit this summer – an unlikely prospect given they had to win all seven Tests and hope other results went their way – while their performance drew criticism that could be described as overly strident.
Strauss is candid enough to admit England’s bowlers, in particular, struggled last week, but he chose the eve of the final Test of the series at the Rose Bowl to point out that his charges are now being measured by a different yardstick.
“The fact that our bowling performance was a little bit down at Lord's is more a reflection on how good it's been over the last 18 months,” said Strauss.
“We've come to expect bowlers to run in and put it on the spot consistently every time they bowl.
“We're not happy with what we did at Lord’s. We need to improve on it, but we need to be pragmatic about these things.
“You're not going to play the perfect Test match every time – it’s unrealistic to expect that – but we still should be aiming for the perfect Test match every time we play.”
With the drive for perfectionism comes a healthy dose of realism, and Strauss, a man for whom many of his greatest successes have come later in his career, warned against expecting too much, too soon.
“Those goals (to become number one) are long-term goals, and you can be in too much of a rush to achieve them,” he stressed.
Like his bowlers at Lord’s, Strauss’ form with the bat this series has been disappointing: just 24 runs from three innings.
Although alone among England’s top seven in failing to pass 50, the fact he has scored a solitary Test century since the 2009 Ashes appears of little concern.
“That’s the nature of the beast as an opening batsman – sometimes you get good balls early,” he said.
“But I’m very comfortable with my own game and I’m very comfortable with us as a batting unit – six out of seven were in fantastic fettle in the first two matches. Now it’s my turn.
“You are never going to have all seven batsmen firing at the same time – it’s unrealistic to expect that.
“There is always pressure on you to score runs. You’ve got to do everything you can and ride the blows. I’m feeling, psychologically, in a very good place and it’s just a matter of not getting too caught up in things.”
Just as with England’s long-term ambitions, patience may prove a valuable asset at the Rose Bowl, which will tomorrow become the 10th ground in England and Wales – and the 105th in the world – to host a Test.
With the exception of that famously crazy hour at Cardiff, bowlers from both sides have received minimal assistance from the pitch in the first two Tests – all four first-innings totals have breached 400 – and there has been little evidence during practice this week to suggest the surface here will be much different.
“It’s pretty similar to the wickets I remember,” Chris Tremlett, who spent the best part of decade at the Rose Bowl before joining Surrey last year, told ecb.co.uk, albeit on a day when the square was kept under cover for large parts of the afternoon due to rain.
“The wicket has got a tinge of green, so it might give it that bit more carry for us tall guys, but I’m expecting a normal Rose Bowl wicket. It can be quite slow and generally it’s pretty hard work.”
The ground has hosted 12 one-day internationals – four of which have involved England – and two Twenty20 internationals since it was built, with considerable financial assistance from Hampshire chairman Rod Bransgrove, in 2001.
Strauss is a fan of the venue – a view echoed by Sri Lanka stand-in skipper Kumar Sangakkara – even if their relative lack of experience here will level the playing field somewhat as Sri Lanka chase the victory that will earn them a share of the series.
“The practice facilities here are outstanding,” said Strauss. “They've put a lot of time and effort into making sure this ground is up to Test standard, and I think it is.
“But we don't know how the wicket's going to play and we're going to have to react well.
“Both sets of players are going to have to adapt to conditions. We're not entirely sure how they're going to be, so in one sense that home advantage of knowing the wicket very well is slightly negated here.”