The period after their previous success against Australia in 2005 is a painful reminder that England have room for improvement.
Strauss vows to learn lessons of 2005 Ashes
Andrew Strauss is not one to rest on his laurels. Nor will he bask in the glory of Ashes success. He knows that he and his England side have plenty of room for improvement. The period after their previous success against Australia in 2005 is a painful reminder of that. England won just two of their next eight Test series and Strauss was dropped for the 2007 tour of Sri Lanka after averaging just 27 in a 12-month period.
Now the studious left-hander wants to avoid a repeat of the Ashes hangover and has his sights set on a memorable series victory in South Africa. "I think, purely in cricketing terms, it would be more special than the Ashes win," says Strauss. "To beat a team, who were No 1 in the world until recently, in their back garden, well that's a bigger challenge than beating Australia at home. With the Ashes you have the rivalry, the history and this series probably won't match that for the euphoria, but in cricketing terms, it's a bigger task and harder test for us. In the two series I've played against South Africa, the intensity is just behind Australia. We are expecting a very tough tour."
Strauss feels South Africa have set the benchmark in world cricket, although they showed they were fallible in March when Australia beat them on their own soil. "Their consistency has been excellent," said Strauss. "They have got a very good bunch of players. Not many absolute superstars. They are hard working and team environment is crucial.To a certain extent we would like to match them." That may mean more aggression from England, something critics have suggested Strauss, polite and mild mannered, needs to demonstrate as a captain and be more like Graeme Smith or Ricky Ponting.
He disagrees, although the Champions Trophy episode last month involving South Africa showed he is not one to back down easily. Strauss refused Smith a runner when he suffered with cramp during the group game which England won, despite a brilliant 141 from the Proteas skipper. "You are what you are," says Strauss, whose diplomacy and excellent man-management skills were essential in restoring harmony to the dressing room following the much-publicised fall-out between the former coach Peter Moores and Kevin Pietersen.
"I know I am intensely competitive. I hate losing and I love winning. I also know there's a way of me maximising my chance of winning and the team and that way is not by copying someone else. "The two guys who may be closer to my temperament are Michael Vaughan: an outstanding captain and a great man, and Stephen Fleming, who I played with at Middlesex and was very unflappable and in control. "The only wrong way in captaincy is to do something that sits uncomfortably with you. What happened with Smith won't linger in my mind.
"In international cricket, if you find a way of motivating yourself then that's a good thing. They will be motivated, especially after the Champions Trophy, to rub our noses in it, but hopefully we will be motivated too and can finish this series with them having their tails between their legs." Strauss will open the batting with Alastair Cook following a prolific Ashes series which yielded 474 runs at an average of over 52, cementing his position as one of England's finest ever openers.
"It was a privilege to be part of the Ashes win, but you can't look back. You have to look forward to the next challenge," said Strauss. Smith believes England are too dependent on their left-handed opening act. "They are very reliant on the openers - Strauss in particular. As captain he's batted supremely well and handled himself excellently during a tense Ashes," he said. "Obviously Pietersen will bat at four but they have got to work out whether it's [Ian] Bell or [Jonathan] Trott at three. They have got a lot of questions going into this series."
Following this four-Test showdown, England face Pakistan, Australia and India over the next two years. In his own unassuming way, Strauss, 32, is ready for the challenge the hectic calendar provides. Like his sporting heroes, the former England captain Graham Gooch, the footballer Gary Lineker and the golfer Nick Faldo, he is perhaps not the most flamboyant of sportsmen, but is similarly single-minded in wanting to succeed.