England captain Andrew Strauss does not intend to let his side’s world No 1 status distract them from the challenge of winning in Sri Lanka.
Strauss’ side ascended to the top of the Test rankings last summer after whitewashing India at home, but were subsequently beaten 3-0 by Pakistan and only remained at the summit after South Africa’s rain-affected draw against New Zealand.
Victory in today’s first Test would go a long way to proving England’s position is not a false one, not to mention putting some distance between themselves and a Proteas side who remain within a whisker of top spot, but Strauss is more focused on the series itself than its implications. England have won just three Tests out of 11 in Sri Lanka and have not taken a match in their last two tours.
“I think we have got a point to prove and we do have to bounce back from those results against Pakistan, but we’re not focusing on our world ranking at the moment,” he said. “That’s not of great consequence to us. If you focus too much on that then I think you’re taking your eye off what is important, which is to try and win each game you play.
“We know the extent of the challenge here and we know how good Sri Lanka are, especially in their own conditions.
“That’s plenty for us to focus on. The rankings will take care of themselves.”
Strauss and his fellow top-order team-mates endured one of their worst collective series in recent memory against Pakistan as they were dismissed on six occasions for less than 260.
Eoin Morgan paid for his failures with his place in the squad, but the spotlight is now on those who remain to show they have conquered their problems against spin bowling. That they must do so on a Galle pitch that was reported to the International Cricket Council last year for providing excessive turn could be considered unfortunate, but Strauss has no issue over either his batsmen or the surface.
“There’s always pressure on the batsmen. We underperformed in the UAE but, to a certain extent, the batting unit has performed outstandingly well for a long time,” he said. “I’ve got no concerns about our ability to bounce back and get big scores over here, but there’s always an element of pressure in international cricket. The history of the wicket here is that it tends to deteriorate at the back end of the match but we’re looking at it being a pretty good Test wicket. I don’t think there are any massive demons in it.”
England face a difficult decision over how to balance their side and Strauss was giving away nothing on the eve of the match.
Ravi Bopara started the tour as the overwhelming favourite to inherit Morgan’s place but, having been ruled out of bowling in the Test series due to a side strain, he is now under serious pressure from uncapped all-rounder Samit Patel.
Tim Bresnan would strengthen the tourists’ attack even more but his selection may be seen as a gamble too far in terms of weakening the batting order.
“You always have to consider in these conditions how much strain you put on your bowling attack and how much they can contend with, so that’s a factor in what team we play,” said Strauss. “The principle is always the same: you pick the side you think is most likely to win you the game.”