London: Having achieved their long-awaited aim of becoming Test cricket's top-ranked side, England captain Andrew Strauss warned his teammates on Thursday that the challenge of staying at the summit will be much more difficult.
Emphatic series wins over Australia, Sri Lanka and India in 2011 ensured England finally became the world's top-ranked Test team for the first time.
Strauss' team has the perfect platform to consolidate its position for years to come as support for the five-day game is strong in English cricket and has an increasingly deep pool of players to choose from, but the opening batsman insists it won't be that easy.
"We all recognize that the next 12-18 months will be the biggest test we have had yet as a group," Strauss said. "It's a different mindset being the hunted rather than the hunters."
England will play a three-match Test series against Pakistan in Dubai and Abu Dhabi starting January, before returning home for series against West Indies and South Africa - the world's third-ranked team - in the summer.
"We'll have to retain that desperate desire to improve if we are to stay on top," Strauss said. "It's an exciting time for us. I'm certainly very excited about it but we don't underestimate the challenge. A lot of teams below us will want to knock us off our perch."
There have been some dire predictions in recent years regarding the long-term future of Test cricket, given the rapid rise of the Twenty20 format and the International Cricket Council's continuing stance of making the one-day World Cup its centerpiece.
Hopes were raised that an inaugural World Test Championship would be introduced in 2013, giving some context to Test series all over the world, but the ICC decided this month to scrap those plans until 2017 at the earliest.
The passion for Test cricket remains intense as ever in England and that was reflected in a landmark sponsorship deal that the England and Wales Cricket Board announced with Investec on Thursday.
The agreement ensured the specialist bank and asset-managing company will sponsor England's home Test matches for the next 10 years, making it the longest sponsorship deal secured in the history of English cricket.
However, there isn't the same affection for the longer format in other countries, especially on the subcontinent where ODIs and T20 dominate the agenda.
"I'm buoyed by what great support there is in this country for Test cricket but I'm also aware that in other parts of the world it's less so," Strauss said. "I think it's been easier to market them (ODIs and T20s) because they are shorter and quicker, whereas Test cricket has always had a traditional audience.
"Our way in the past was just to rely on Test cricket always being around. But I think it's time to knock some heads together and say, 'Look, what is the best way to market the product and what is the best way to bring more people to the game?'"
British media reported that the ECB's deal with Investec was worth from 20 million pounds ($31 million) to as much as 40 million pounds ($62 million).
The company, which sponsored the home November internationals of England's rugby union team from 1998 through to the end of their agreement this summer, will become the third to sponsor Test cricket in England.