Strauss eyes summer of progress
It is not often an England captain can emerge from a disappointing winter with his reputation enhanced, but that is the situation Andrew Strauss finds himself in as he plots a course through the most hectic summer in cricket history.
Strauss' preparation for his first winter tour as captain was hardly ideal as he took over from Kevin Pietersen at short notice following the departure of head coach Peter Moores.
He was still expected to oversee a comfortable Test series triumph in the Caribbean, however, and failed with England paying the price for being dismissed for a lowly 51 in the first Test in Jamaica with the remaining Tests in the series all being drawn on flat pitches.
But apart from that crazy session at Sabina Park, England under Strauss made major strides and claimed a surprise one-day series success at the end of a tour when they could so easily have capitulated.
"I suppose there was potential for us to go off the rails and we didn't do that," admitted Strauss.
"To lose the Test series was bitterly disappointing, but I think the guys stuck together very well.
"It bodes well for the future but at the same time it's important we keep doing the hard work we've done and make sure it's not just a one-off, but part of an ongoing process and if we do that I'm sure we'll get the results on the pitch as well."
England's rehabilitation in the Caribbean was based around a strong partnership between Strauss and stand-in coach Andy Flower, both of whom have since been appointed in permanent positions, and the impressive form of the captain.
Strauss followed his three centuries in the Test series by continuing that impressive form in the one-day campaign to at least provide a little momentum for England entering their hectic 2009 ahead.
Before the end of this summer, England will have played two Tests and three one-day internationals against West Indies, competed in the ICC World Twenty20 and faced Australia in a home Ashes series and a seven-match one-day international series.
To ensure England stay the course during that gruelling summer, Strauss embarked on a fitness drive during the one-day series in the Caribbean which he hopes will ensure that England do not have the problems which undermined their 2006-07 Ashes campaign in Australia, which they lost 5-0 after injuries ruled out Michael Vaughan and Simon Jones.
"We've put in a huge amount of work off the field and the guys have responded brilliantly," said Strauss.
"The amount of fitness work we've done, the amount of training work we've done has been very impressive but you want to see the rewards for that hard work we've put in.
"We tried to explain to the players a little bit more of the need to do things or why we're doing things or giving them more freedom into how they go about it.
"All the stuff we've done off the pitch is designed to help us perform on the pitch. It's not a case of being told what to do, it's about wanting to get back to playing better cricket and if we feel there are ways of doing that which we're all comfortable with then the work ethic will always be there."
Strauss ruled himself out of the running to lead the side in all formats of the game - he withdrew from the running to captain England's World Twenty20 challenge in June - to concentrate on other challenges - most notably this summer's home Ashes series.
A key member of the England's side in the last two Ashes series, Strauss said: "Having experienced it in 2005, we all know what an amazing effect it can have on the country if we do well.
"It's still a little way off, but we feel very comfortable with our ability to play well in English conditions and if we do that we've got a good chance of beating the Aussies."