England's cricketers fly to Australia for Ashes

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/s/strauss-ashes.jpg' class='caption'> England's cricketers flew out to Australia on Friday to defend the Ashes in a far more confrontational mood than four years ago.

Updated: October 29, 2010 12:56 IST
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England's cricketers flew out to Australia on Friday to defend the Ashes in a far more confrontational mood than four years ago.

When England's players headed to Australia as holders in 2006, they were shocked that the home team - determined to regain the urn - refused to engage in casual conversation at the Gabba ahead of the first Test.

The tone was set for the worst Ashes defense ever as England lost the first Test by 227 runs on the way to an embarrassing 5-0 reverse.

"I'm not sure about not being able to say hello to them, but until the end of that fifth Test there's two sides at war with each other," England captain Andrew Strauss said. "Both sides know that at the end of the series there's going to be 11 guys feted as heroes and 11 guys who failed in their task.

"Until that final Test is over there's no point being too hunky-dory or friendly with the opposition. Our task is to go out there and try to beat them."

England Cricket managing director Hugh Morris was more circumspect in his language, but acknowledged the scale of the task facing the team.

Australia has slipped one spot below England to fifth in the ICC Test rankings but England has not taken a series there since 1986-87 and has won just three of its last 26 Ashes Tests in Australia -- all when the outcome had already been decided.

"It's going to be a big challenge," Morris said. "Any sporting team going out to Australia will tell you what a challenge it will be. Our contests go back to 1877 and every time we play Australia, it's very, very competitive.

"It's not war, but it's very, very competitive cricket." Still, England has won eight of its 10 Tests since the last Ashes and won the World Twenty20 along the way, so confidence should be no problem.

"The only time that 5-0 loss will be wiped out of the record books is if we go out there and win this time, so that's our challenge," Strauss said. "Those of us who were on that tour last time realise what a tough place it is to tour."

The 33-year-old Strauss, who led England to a surprise 2-1 victory in the Ashes last year, is prepared for the taunts that are likely to come his way.

Images of his Australia counterpart Ricky Ponting and vice-captain Michael Clarke were projected onto the Houses of Parliament this week along with a message to "pack the urn" for it to be returned, and Strauss is prepared to be barracked.

"You've got to roll with it to a certain extent," Strauss said.

"I remember Ricky Ponting was a bit of a pantomime villain over here most of last summer and that may be the same for me over there."

Australia dealt with one pantomime villain of its own today, ditching Merv Hughes as a selector.

The mustachioed crowd favorite was ousted in a streamlining of selectors after criticism that he led supporter tours even while carrying his selection duties and did not have cable TV at his home -- making it impossible for him to watch matches he did not attend.

Cricket Australia retained chairman Andrew Hilditch plus David Boon, Greg Chappell and Jamie Cox on a four-member panel.

"Cox, Boon and Chappell were the better options to continue," Cricket Australia chairman James Sutherland said.

Strauss highlighted flawed preparations and injuries as the primary reasons for England's woeful performance last time. Spinner Ashley Giles and paceman Simon Jones were absent, while Michael Vaughan's injury meant that Andrew Flintoff captained the side - his leadership having been preferred to that of Strauss.

"Whether Andrew Flintoff or myself took over there was a big void and a vacuum to fill there," Strauss said. "This time we don't have that problem and we don't have the injury concerns we had last time at this stage.

"There won't be any excuses from our point of view when the cricket gets under way. There's nothing to be overawed about. It's a tough tour but if you're prepared for it you shouldn't be overawed."

Three warmup matches should ensure England is competitive by the time of the first Test, and -- in a turnaround inconceivable when Shane Warne was vexing English batsman for the 14 years up to 2007 -- the tourists have the man who should be the best spinner of the series.

Graeme Swann has taken 113 wickets in his first 24 Tests -- including nine five-wicket hauls -- and was on the shortlist for the ICC's cricketer of the year award this year.

"Graeme Swann's been outstanding in the last 18 months," Strauss said. "He's going to be a handful for them. I'm sure they'll be having meetings to discuss ways of counteracting him, so that's a pretty good start.

"There are going to be periods in any game where there are going to be opportunities to take advantage of conditions, whether it be spinners bowling or seamers bowling on a flat wicket, we've got to recognise those situations and those opportunities early and react well to them."

And Strauss himself is another key figure. Vaughan, now a commentator, has said that if the opener averages 50 over the series, England will win. If he averages 25, England loses.

With England expecting a confrontational series, Strauss mulled whether he wanted to end the series remembered as a sporting captain or a competitive one, like Douglas Jardine --leader during the 1930s Bodyline series that threatened to spill over into a diplomatic incident.

"You're only remembered if you're a winner, put it that way," Strauss said. "That's what we're out there to do."

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