Strauss wants perfect five
England are targeting an unprecedented 5-0 one-day international whitewash of Australia, after wrapping up the NatWest Series with two matches still to play.
Andrew Strauss’ reinvigorated team had to dig deep at Old Trafford yesterday to scramble the winning runs they needed to go 3-0 up, eventually getting home by a solitary wicket.
Nonetheless, having previously been coy about the prospect of winning every match against the old enemy this summer, an emboldened Strauss has dared to voice the ambition publicly to complete the sequence with wins at the Brit Oval and Lord’s this week.
Should England do so, it will be significant revenge for last September’s 6-1 home defeat by Australia in the corresponding series - and it would take their run of ODI victories against all opposition to 10 out of 10.
Some are contending too that it will give them a major psychological advantage over Australia for next winter’s Ashes.
Strauss does not buy that - but is enthused about England’s prospects in a sub-continental World Cup early next year.
“I don’t think we can read much into the Ashes in such a radically different format of the game,” he said.
“But for the World Cup, I think it [a 5-0 victory] would instil us with a huge amount of confidence.
“We’re aiming for it - we’re in a great position to do that now. We don’t want to take our foot off the gas.”
Strauss’ 87 carried England to the brink of victory yesterday, when their success provided some consolation for a nation so disappointed by their team’s exit from the football World Cup at the hands of Germany.
If there are any concerns for England’s cricketers, though, they must surely surround two significant wobbles with victory in sight - first at the SWALEC Stadium and, more dramatically, at Old Trafford.
They had moved into an impregnable position both times, only to lose three late wickets for 19 in Cardiff and then a calamitous six for 18 in Manchester.
But Strauss is not worried, disagreeing with his opposite number Ricky Ponting’s suggestion that England may be a little light on frontline batsmen.
“The specialist batters have done a pretty good job up to the 40-over mark,” he said. “The challenge is just to get the job done in those last 10 overs.
“I don’t think we’ve been that exposed, other than being the architects of our own downfall in the back-end of the game.
“It’s just a case of us taking responsibility a bit more and making sure we’re not out at the end to see the boys home.”
Strauss can speak with confidence about his own form but knows he needs to keep producing, just like everyone else.
“There is personal satisfaction in getting a score that leads to victory,” he added.
“But it’s not about proving myself - that’s not the way I’m seeing it at the moment - it’s about everyone doing a job for this England side.
“My job is to captain and bat, so all I can do is keep playing and captaining the side as well as I can. I hope that will be good enough to remain in the side.”
Among England’s bowlers, Graeme Swann rightly took the plaudits yesterday for his four wickets - albeit on a spinner’s pitch - and Strauss also had high praise for James Anderson.
The Lancashire fast bowler was disappointed not to play in the ICC World Twenty20 success last month, but his ODI captain said: “He’s been excellent.
“He’s bowling well and has contributed a lot to the squad both on and off the pitch - and probably had a little bit of a point to prove, after being left out of the World Twenty20.”
Anderson was relatively expensive in Cardiff but has picked up wickets at all three venues so far, and was rewarded for a fine new-ball spell yesterday with three late successes on his return.
An apparently fragile top order had earlier fallen to spin, and Strauss believes England have Australia’s batsmen right where they want them.
“Their batting unit looks under a bit of pressure,” he said. “That’s credit to the way we’ve bowled at them.
“I wouldn’t pick out one player in particular; I think as a unit, they’ve often been four or five wickets down before they want to be - and that’s always hard work to come back from.”
Ponting can hardly argue with that sort of assessment, based on evidence to date. But he is encouraged by England’s own apparent susceptibility to collapse.
“We’ve felt right through the series that if we’re able to take some early wickets and expose the (Luke) Wrights and (Mike) Yardys and those guys, and get them in reasonably early, we’d have a good chance,” he said.