No sooner had England retained the Ashes in Australia yesterday than they were invited to a reception at 10 Downing Street. It is the modern way of politics and sport, but considering what the team's captain Andrew Strauss had to say about the future, the Prime Minister might like to find some way of pushing through a set of revolving doors on his expenses.
It was as if England, having just laid to rest almost a quarter of a century of bitter history, were proclaiming they had achieved nothing yet. The side were understandably elated at their mountainous innings victory in Melbourne – England's largest against Australia for 54 years – but it gave them only a 2-1 lead in the series with the fifth Test to come in Sydney next week. The Ashes – which England held after their series victory at home last year – would seem like only half a share of the booty without a series victory to go with it.
"Winning the Ashes in Australia has always been a Holy Grail for English sides," said Strauss. "We have not won the Ashes yet but we have retained the urn, which was one of our primary goals. Our objective was to come out here and win the series. We have not achieved that yet. It is reassuring to know the Ashes are going to remain in England for another couple of years, but it will leave a very sour taste in the mouth if we are not able to go on and convert our position into a series win in Sydney. "
Strauss is the first England captain to have stewarded his side to two Ashes wins, both home and away, since Mike Brearley. Disregarding whether his is the greater achievement, because Brearley's team played against an Australia second string, it rightly takes him to an exalted status.
The refusal of Strauss to let his natural jubilation overwhelm him has been the hallmark of his captaincy since taking over at the start of 2009. There is always another challenge ahead. "There is a lot of confidence in our camp and we need to make sure we channel that in the right way and come out and play the same brand of cricket in Sydney," he said. "In reality the job is a long way off being done. This is one series and as a side we have still got a lot of goals we want to achieve.
"English cricket is not just about winning the Ashes. We have to look forward to the future and get our team up those rankings and to world No 1 at some stage. That is the ultimate goal for us and we have to take a lot of small steps on the way to doing that including India next summer, which is an important step on that way. I get the feeling we can still improve as a side and that is very motivating."
The position of his counterpart, Ricky Ponting, was in a different condition altogether. Out of form and luck, Ponting may be out of a job shortly after leading Australia in 77 Test matches. The way he sounded after defeat indicated he was preparing to carry on but as the only Australia captain to have lost the Ashes three times (2005, 2009 and in this series) his hold is tenuous.
Ponting was as magnanimous in defeat as he is feisty on the field of battle. Almost his first words were to give credit to the way in which England had played. However, he talked of the Sydney match without sounding like a man destined to win it and draw the series. He was asked what case he might put to the selectors to keep his job and drew immediate laughter.
"I probably haven't much of a case at the moment. I've a lot of knowledge on the game, I've played 150 Test matches and won 99 Tests matches, not as captain but that I've been part of. I've captained a lot of winning teams," he said.
"There is no doubt that the experiences I have in the game will hold me in good stead. I feel I am well equipped to bring on some young guys and we have got a few of them in the side now. We have to find ways to win Test matches. We haven't won enough lately."
How different it all was from four years ago when Strauss was part of the team that lost the Ashes series 5-0, along with four colleagues. "It was the lowest point of my career and a lot of guys felt similarly," Strauss said.
"In a lot of ways there were some important lessons learned. The one thing that struck me as an opening batsman in that series was the feeling of being suffocated from both ends all the time. I think that was the basis of our strategy out here: to make sure Australia never got away from us and if we did that well and consistently it would bring us wickets. We did learn quite a lot from that series."
Most of the suffocating so far has been done by England and last night they were breathing the purest of air, which the rose garden at Number 10 may struggle to match.Reuse content