England captain Alastair Cook insisted the goal of winning a fourth successive Ashes series would ensure his side weren’t complacent when they arrived in Australia for the latest defence of the urn.
Not since 1890 have England known what it is to enjoy four straight Test series wins against their arch-rivals. But that is the prospect that lies in wait as, barely two months since wrapping up a 3-0 home series win over Australia, Cook’s squad flew out from Heathrow Airport to Perth for a five-Test tour which begins with a three-day game against Western Australia starting on October 31.
Cook, asked if England might be complacent told reporters at a press conference at Heathrow on Wednesday: “Complacency — that’s not a problem. We have a chance to win four Ashes series in a row for the first time since 1890. Everyone is excited by that and is desperate to do that.
“Clearly, top-order runs in Australia are vitally important and we saw last time when we went there how big runs make a massive difference and set the game up,” Cook explained.
“Sometimes in England, 240, 250 can be a good [innings] score with the overhead conditions. But the majority of the time in Australia 400 is the bare minimum. In that first innings you want to get into the game. That’s the job of the top order,” he said.
During England’s 3-1 series win on their last tour of Australia in 2010/11, when all their victories came by an innings, meaning they only batted once, Cook scored a colossal 766 runs at an average of 127.66 with three hundreds and a best of 235 not out.
The 28-year-old left-hander was nothing like as prolific during the recent campaign, with a return of 277 runs at 27.70 with three fifties.
“They (Australia) bowled well and I didn’t execute as well as I could have done,” Cook said.
Reflecting on the series just gone as a whole, Cook said: “If you win 3-0 in an Ashes series it is a great achievement and one we should look back on with fond memories. To win 3-0 was pretty good and I would love to do that again.”
And after a packed home programme, which included leading England to the final of the Champions Trophy one-day tournament where they lost to India, Cook insisted he and the other senior members of the squad felt fully refreshed.
“The two months’ break has been great and the lads are raring to go. It’s great to get that buzz at the start of the tour and the lads are ready.”
As for England being billed as favourites (British bookmakers William Hill have England 10/11 for the series with Australia 13/8 and 9/2 the draw) Cook said: “When you have won the last three series, and the last one was only two months ago, it is fair if people say we are favourites.
“This summer was the first time we had gone into an Ashes series as favourites but winning in Australia is no mean feat, that’s the challenge we have got in front of us.”
Another challenge for Cook is to try to ensure all his squad remain in a positive frame of mind even if they are not playing as could well be the case during the Tests for left-armer Monty Panesar, who travels to Australia as back-up spinner to Graeme Swann.
In August, Panesar was sacked by Sussex after being arrested for urinating on a bouncer in Brighton and last month, playing for Essex, he received a suspended England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) ban for an on-field altercation with Worcestershire’s Ross Whiteley.
“Clearly he’d had a tough summer,” Cook said. “But I certainly think he’s on the right path now.”
England found themselves under fire, mainly from Australians, for their style of cricket with wins achieved by grabbing hold of key moments rather than dominating in dashing style throughout a match. However, the pragmatic Cook said: “To me it’s all about results — 3-0 sounds a lot better than 0-3.”