Strauss tells ~~stand-ins~~ to press Ashes claims

Published: Wednesday, August 16, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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London:Andrew Strauss said the England 'back-up' players who have shone in the absence of last year's injured Ashes stars could strengthen their case for a place in the side for November's opener against Australia during the final Test against Pakistan at The Oval this week.

England, at 2-0 up with one draw, have already won this series after crushing wins by an innings and 120 runs and 167 runs at Old Trafford and Headingley respectively.

Those wins have been achieved without the injured quartet of Ashes-winning skipper Michael Vaughan, all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, left-arm spinner Ashley Giles and pace bowler Simon Jones.

In their place the likes of Ian Bell, who has scored a hundred in each of the Tests against Pakistan this season, No 3 batsman Alastair Cook, paceman Sajid Mahmood and left-arm spinner Monty Panesar, with 16 wickets from 154.1 overs at just over 25 apiece, have all seized their chance to shine.

"If we needed a boost in confidence before the Ashes we've got one," opening batsman Strauss told reporters at The Oval here Wednesday.

"There's healthy competition for places in the England side now and that spurs people on to perform better in my opinion.

"The more good performances people put in the more they are there or thereabouts for selection for that first Test against the Aussies (at Brisbane's Gabba ground on November 23).

"Now there are 15 or 16 guys who feel comfortable in the set-up rather than 11 or 12. It means if we do have an injury or two there's a capable back-up there for us."

England's success against Pakistan was their first Test series win since they secured the Ashes 2-1 last year to end Australia's 16-year-run of success in Test cricket's longest-running encounter.

And it has reopened the debate about who should lead England in Australia in the absence of Vaughan, ruled out with a knee injury.

The selectors had indicated that Flintoff would be re-instated as captain the moment he recovered from surgery on his left ankle.

But Strauss's blossoming leadership skills during this series mean the issue is now not so clear-cut

However, the left-hander was keen to play down talk of any kind of captaincy 'contest' between himself and Flintoff.

"Whatever happens after this series is something for the selectors to think about. If they do go with Fred (Flintoff) he'll have my 100 percent support. "And there'll be 15 or 16 guys going to Australia with the sole intention of retaining the urn and that will happen regardless of who is captain," insisted Strauss.

"I don't believe there's a massive competition for the captaincy," the former Middlesex skipper maintained.

Strauss said England's morale had been bolstered by winning a Test series without the talismanic Flintoff.

"It was important to learn to win without Fred although we're a better side with him in it.

"Fred fulfils two roles in one person so if you don't have him you are going to be light somewhere.

"This series we've gone for the four bowlers and we've been very fortunate our four bowlers have performed well and that Monty's been able to bowl a lot of overs."

England are set to stay unchanged but Pakistan are likely to make at least three alterations to their Headingley team with the recently arrived Mohammad Hafeez and fit again Imran Farhat replacing openers Salman Butt and Taufeeq Umar, now both off the tour.

And fast bowler Mohammad Asif looks to have recovered from an elbow injury, after recuperating and playing warm-up matches in Pakistan, to replace the out of form Mohammad Sami for what would be his first Test of the series.

But spearhead quick Shoaib Akhtar (ankle) remains unfit, according to coach Bob Woolmer.

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