Butt forecasts hard days in Australia for Ashes strikeforce

Touring captain fears for England but Strauss remains upbeat
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The Independent Online

Salman Butt last night declared himself a "very happy captain".

Happy with his team's ultimately tense but undeniably well-deserved victory, happy to look ahead with confidence to Thursday's final Test at Lord's and happy – when persuaded to consult a crystal ball – to predict a tough time for England's bowlers in Australia.

Most cricket fans on this side of the world are more concerned about England's batting right now. And, with Jimmy Anderson and Graeme Swann to the fore yesterday, it was the home bowling unit that almost brought Pakistan's victory march to a shuddering halt.

Butt, though, reckons there are problems ahead for Andrew Strauss's attack. "If this is the England bowling in Australian conditions then they will find it hard," he said after his team's four-wicket win at The Oval. "I think the conditions here have favoured England. But anywhere else you play then obviously the Australian team has the edge because the nature of their cricket is to attack teams, and the only way to beat them is to counterattack."

Butt is as good a person to consult as anyone when it comes to the Ashes, as he has played against both Australia and England in the space of a month or so. He does not want to put his foot in it, though.

"I've still some time to spend here in England," said the smiling top-order batsman. "But I think my little experience says that the Aussies are a much better side in their home conditions than they were over here in the Ashes because the ball comes on and it doesn't swing as much."

Strauss would rather not discuss either of the A-words (Ashes or Australia) at the moment. And understandably so, with a series against a rejuvenated Pakistan still to be won. "A lot of people are talking about sending messages and saying things," said England's captain. "I don't think that is the way we look at things. If we'd won [this series] 4-0 that would not make us any more likely to win that First Test against Australia. What happens here has a fairly small effect on what happens there, I think."

Batting collapses have become an almost everyday occurrence during this series, with both Pakistan and England looking vulnerable. That has been due partly to tricky conditions and partly to some outstanding swing and spin bowling, but Strauss knows he and his top-order colleagues were below par at The Oval.

"It's a bit of a kick in the teeth every time you lose a Test match, but we were outplayed in this game," he said. "Certainly the first session of the game, where we lost five wickets, and yesterday [after tea on Friday], when we lost six wickets, cost us dearly. We need to make sure that doesn't happen again and learn the lessons.

"You don't want sessions where you lose five or six wickets – if you keep doing that you are putting yourself under pressure unnecessarily. You have to put it in context – there have been pitches this summer that have done a bit. On this one, though, there are fewer excuses so as a unit we have to take it on the chin and make sure we don't repeat those mistakes.

"If you are asking whether we are bad players, I don't think that's true. As a batting unit I don't have any real concerns about any particular member because I think we are all quality players, but you need to get runs on the board."

Starting at Lord's, presumably, although at least England can go into that Test without worrying too much about Alastair Cook's form following the opener's badly needed century two days ago.

"We've played a lot of good cricket over the course of the summer so let's put everything in context," Strauss added. "We have every right to feel very confident going into Lord's. Of course we want to finish the summer on a high and win this series and everyone will be very motivated to do so.

"I've got no concerns that we are not going to play well."

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