England’s director of cricket Andrew Strauss has warned Australia they will have to produce “outstanding cricket” if they are to end their long wait for an Ashes series triumph on these shores.
Australia head into this summer’s five-match series as favourites after their 5-0 mauling of England on home soil 18 months ago and recent successes at the World Cup and in the West Indies.
However, the Australians have not won the Ashes in England since 2001 and Strauss feels the tourists will need to be near their best to end that run in the coming months.
He told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Sportsweek programme: “We know this Australia side is a good side, they’re full of confidence, they’ve just won the World Cup.
“They’ll be a hard side to beat but we’ll have the support of the nation behind the players and it’s a hard thing to win away from home. I think if Australia do win they’ll have to play some outstanding cricket to do so.”
Former England skipper Strauss, who led his nation to Ashes success home and away, also believes the 2015 edition could be decided by whichever team can capitalise best on the “big moments” during the series.
Asked what you need to do to win the Ashes, the 38-year-old said: “Very simply win the big moments. There will be plenty of times over the next seven weeks where both sides are very even and the match will be on the line and those are the times you need to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Pretty simple in theory, in practice a bit more difficult.”
It will be a new-look England who will face the Australians this summer, with coach Trevor Bayliss taking charge of his first series and a team with confidence on the rise following the recent Tests and one-dayers against New Zealand.
England’s commitment to attacking cricket against the Black Caps has been welcomed by long-suffering fans of the national team and Strauss expects more of the same under Australian Bayliss. He said: “I think we’ll see England cricketers encouraged to go out and play with a bit of aggression, a bit of flair and be encouraged to take the game to the opposition.”
Being aggressive does not have to mean being overly confrontational, though, according to Strauss, who is well aware of how the huge attention surrounding matches between England and Australia could affect players in different ways.
“I think we can over-hype an Ashes series, which maybe puts the players under more pressure to be really aggressive. You can be very aggressive with the way you play, you don’t necessarily need to do it with the way you speak to the opposition and all that sort of stuff,” said Strauss.
With regards to dealing with pressure, Strauss believes that is where Bayliss comes into his own, adding: “Trevor’s method all the way through his career has been to take pressure off players, so he’s a very good communicator, builds very good relationships with players.
“[You ease pressure] by creating a very relaxed environment and not over-thinking things, not over-analysing things. Making sure there’s a very simple guiding philosophy about what you expect the players to do and then ultimately allowing the players to go and play the games that they can under a lot of pressure.
“Ultimately, international sport is about dealing with the pressure more than anything else.”
Meanwhile, in Colombo yesterday, Angelo Mathews took Sri Lanka to a commanding position at the end of the third day of the third and final Test against Pakistan.
The Sri Lanka captain’s unbeaten 77 left the home side to a commanding 291-run lead with five second-innings wickets still standing, after being in trouble at 35-3 earlier in a rain-affected day. Supported well by Upul Tharanga (48), Jehan Mubarak (35) and Dinesh Chandimal (39 not out), Mathews has now made Sri Lanka odds-on to win the series, currently level at one win each.