Strauss urges England to keep eye on ball

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The Independent Online

Andrew Strauss has demanded his England side view their Ashes triumph as only a stepping stone to become the world's best team.

England arrived in South Africa yesterday for their two-and-a-half month tour with the long-term goal of replacing Graeme Smith's side at the top of the rankings.

The last time they reclaimed the Ashes in 2005 they followed it up with a 2-0 Test series defeat in Pakistan the following winter. Strauss is determined to ensure a similar scenario is avoided against South Africa and insists England's players realise challenging times lie ahead. "We've talked a lot about how winning the Ashes is not the end of the road, it's almost the starting point for us to improve," he said.

"We'd be lying if we didn't want to be the No 1 side in the world, but if you look at how the ranking system works it will take a number of years of solid progression from where we are at the moment and consistency is crucial.

"The perception of the post-2005 period is that we took our eye off the ball quite badly. I'm not comfortable with that myself. I remember that Pakistan tour and how hard we worked at it. We had a number of very crucial injuries which didn't help.

"If you look at our performances over the last 12 months we're far from the genuine article and where we want to be. No one in the squad truly believes we've made it, we've got a long way to go. I want to see our players hungry and committed."

England begin their tour with a match against the Diamond Eagles in Bloemfontein on Friday before two Twenty20 internationals and a five match 50-over series. The Tests do not begin until 16 December when England face South Africa over four matches without the powers of Andrew Flintoff, who retired from the five-day game after the Ashes.

It is hoped all-rounder Stuart Broad will emerge as Flintoff's successor following his heroics this summer, but Strauss is keen to minimise any hype surrounding the 23-year-old.

"Stuart has his head screwed on. There has been a lot of media attention on him but he realises that there's much room for him to improve," he said. "He's excited about that and he's very keen to contribute to this team. We're excited about him but the last thing I want to do is put a huge amount of expectation on his shoulders. You must give people room to improve and hopefully he'll continue that development this winter.

"It's not a realistic expectation for Broad to fill Flintoff's shoes in both disciplines in the short term. It would be wrong to heap that expectation on his shoulders. Over the years we've had to do without Flintoff quite often and what we've found is that we've done quite well by everyone taking responsibility and playing a bit better.

"Stuart Broad is not a like-for-like replacement for Flintoff anyway, but he has his own set of skills, some of which are world class and some of which need work. We don't want him to be the saviour we turn to, we need all 11 to do that."

*Australia have suffered another blow in their bid to win the one-day series against India with injured all-rounder James Hopes following wicketkeeper Tim Paine and paceman Brett Lee home. Hopes damaged his hamstring during the first one-day international. On Saturday, the tourists suffered a six-wicket defeat in Delhi to go 2-1 down in the seven-match series, which continues in Mohali today.