Strauss issues rallying call to Ashes squad

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The Independent Online

Andrew Strauss today declared war on Australia as he prepared to lead England Down Under for their defence of the Ashes.

Captain Strauss called for an end to "hunky-dory" relations with Ricky Ponting's side until the final ball of the series had been bowled, insisting winning was everything this winter.

The 33-year-old instructed his players to be cordial to their opponents but otherwise to keep their distance during the five-Test battle.

"Ultimately, until the end of that fifth Test, they're two sides at war with each other," said Strauss the day before England's departure to Australia.

"Both sides know that, at the end of the series, 11 guys are going to be feted as heroes and 11 guys are going to have failed in their task.

"Until that final Test is over, there's no point in being too hunky-dory and friendly with the opposition; our task is to go out there and beat them."

Strauss stressed there was no ill feeling behind his sentiments, adding: "I don't think it's about anger; it's about being clinical and logical, and dealing with the pressure well.

"It's not about us hating the Australians or anything like that; it's about us going out there and beating the other 11 guys on the park."

Opening batsman Strauss saw first hand just how ruthless Australia could be four years ago when England were whitewashed 5-0 Down Under.

He is desperate to bury the ghosts of that series.

"We're out there to win. Simple. That's our goal," he said.

"Everything we've done, every decision we've made up until now, has been about us winning this Ashes series.

"Every decision we make from now on will be about winning this Ashes series.

"None of us want to have any regrets at the end of it."

England have not won an Ashes series in Australia for almost a quarter of a century but Strauss said: "There's nothing to be overawed about.

"It's a tough tour; there's no doubt about that.

"But if you're prepared for it then you shouldn't be overawed.

"I think there's a real relaxed excitement about the troops at the moment because they feel ready."

England have also won only three of the last 26 Ashes Tests on Australian soil, all of them dead rubbers.

"For us to waltz over there and strut around and think we're just going to dominate proceedings would be wrong," said Strauss.

"But, at the same time, I think there's a great, deep, fundamental belief that we can go out there and win.

"If we turn over those previous statistics, that'll highlight the scale of the achievement."

Bringing back the Ashes would see Strauss go down in history as one of the country's great captains.

"We're all aware of the opportunities that are there this winter, not only with the Ashes but with the World Cup as well," said the 33-year-old, who led by example as England regained the urn last summer.

"Potentially, this could be one of the greatest winters ever for English cricket.

"But that's a long way off and to start dreaming about it or thinking about it at this stage is unhelpful."

Strauss was adamant he possessed the "steeliness" to handle whatever is thrown at him in Australia and was ready to be branded the bad guy by the home fans and media.

"I remember Ricky Ponting was kind of the pantomime villain over here for most of last summer, and it may be the same case for me over there," said Strauss, who enjoyed learning Ponting and Australia vice-captain Michael Clarke had their images projected onto Big Ben last night with a message reminding him not to forget to bring the urn Down Under.

"I think one of the good things about the Ashes is it's generally good-natured.

"There's a healthy and serious rivalry between the two countries but it generally doesn't spill over and hopefully that's the case this time."

Strauss was confident England had learnt the lessons of their last Ashes tour, especially regarding the importance of proper preparation time.

But perhaps the biggest lesson was about not giving the opposition an inch.

"You're only remembered if you're a winner, let's put it that way," said Strauss.

"So that's what we're out there to do."