Strauss sets bar high for England
Andrew Strauss admits England still have room for improvement as they bid for the series victory against Pakistan they will need if they are to set off for Australia with confidence intact.
The England captain sees a potentially difficult four-match npower Test series against Salman Butt's tourists as an opportunity to continue a progression which began with last summer's wins over West Indies and then in the Ashes.
Anything but another success, over a developing team who have just drawn 1-1 against Australia themselves, would be a significantly inconvenient dent to England's hopes of retaining the urn Down Under for the first time in almost a quarter of a century.
England's most recent Test assignment was a routine 2-0 win at home to Bangladesh, since when they have been involved in two NatWest Series before a mid-summer recess.
"We're not necessarily where we want to be, but I think we're making improvements," said Strauss ahead of tomorrow's Trent Bridge opener.
"My first series in charge we lost to the West Indies, then beat the West Indies and won the Ashes.
"I think there's a nice progression there - but there are areas we need to improve, no doubt about that. This Test series gives us an opportunity to do that."
England today had to call up Tim Bresnan for his fellow Yorkshire all-rounder Ajmal Shahzad, after the latter aggravated an ankle injury.
But Strauss could breathe a sigh of relief after key batsman Kevin Pietersen emerged unscathed when he fell over a football in warm-up this morning, at the start of a series in which the decision review system returns.
Potential for controversy is perhaps augmented by the presence of DRS, because it is still a new toy to many players.
There are more pressing issues for Strauss and company, though - starting with how to defy a Pakistan bowling attack which saw off Australia for only 88 in helpful conditions in the first innings at Headingley Carnegie last week.
The England captain concedes similar weather is likely to prevail, and therefore assist both teams' pace attacks this week.
"It's a ground where generally the ball swings around a bit," he said.
"It does depend quite a lot on the overhead conditions, but I think both bowling attacks are going to be looking at that and hoping to be making early inroads into the opposition.
"It's important we react better to those conditions than the Pakistanis.
"They're a good, varied bowling attack. But I don't think it's our job to over-hype the opposition.
"Most Test teams you play against have got a good bowling attack, and Pakistan is one of the better ones we'll see."
Strauss senses a frailty in the tourists' largely inexperienced batting line-up.
"You know that they're not likely to be on their game for the full five days," added the opener.
"They have batted in pretty bowler-friendly conditions. It's a young batting line-up - there's no doubt about that - and if there is inexperience in these conditions we need to exploit that."
Among those Strauss will be hoping can do that will be James Anderson, last seen at this level helping to bowl out Bangladesh twice in as many sessions at Old Trafford.
He has since fared less well in one-day internationals, and Strauss said: "Jimmy Anderson is under some pressure - as we all are.
"It would be wrong ever to assume that your place in the side is cast in stone. We want healthy competition in the ranks.
"I think we have got a fair amount of competition - both in the batting line-up now and with some bowlers champing at the bit to get in as well."
England know their opponents' mercurial streak is likely to produce exciting cricket throughout, and Strauss can only hope that does not boil over into anything like the controversy he had to deal with in his first series as captain.
That was in 2006 when Pakistan had to forfeit the final Test at the Brit Insurance Oval after being accused of ball-tampering and subsequently refusing to take the field.
"That series was all over-ridden by what happened at The Oval, with the match being forfeited in the end," he remembers.
"It was a bit of a baptism of fire for me.
"Let's hope this one is lively in a good way, rather than a bad way.
"I don't think either side want to be involved in anything particularly controversial - and let's hope that the case."