Strauss puts his trust in England character

CARDIFF: England captain Andrew Strauss goes into Wednesday's first Test here against Australia confident his developing side have the character required to cope with the pressure of Ashes cricket.

England's form since winning the 2005 Ashes has been mediocre and when the Ashes were last up for grabs, in 2006/07, they were thrashed 5-0 in Australia.

While the likes of Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff remain from the side that triumphed four years ago, at least five players - Ravi Bopara, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad and Graham Onions - could be making their Ashes debuts here at Sophia Gardens.

Since Strauss was thrust into the captaincy in January, after Pietersen's falling out with then coach Peter Moores, England have lost a series in the Caribbean and beaten a poor West Indies team at home earlier this season.

Strauss, who has repeatedly emphasised the importance of keeping a cool head, told reporters here Monday: "The key to the series is how you handle those pressure moments and there are going to be plenty of them.

"That's going to be a bit of a test of character and a bit of a test of courage and technique. You have to be prepared for that and be mentally switched on enough to come through that, come out the other side and then apply the pressure on the opposition."

Strauss, turning to his team, added: "All 11 of them have shown before that they can handle those situations.

"An Ashes series is slightly different and we've only got probably half our team that have played in an Ashes series before.

"But the guys that have come in have an opportunity to show they can do it in an Ashes series and I've got very few concerns in my own head that there are any weak links and that's encouraging."

While Australia fast bowler Brett Lee has been ruled out of the first Test with a rib injury, England so far have no fitness problems.

Their major selection decision appears to be whether to go in with two spinners in Swann and Monty Panesar or leave one of them, most probably Panesar, out and instead opt for Onions as an additional seamer.

England are not expected to unveil their side until shortly before Wednesday's toss.

Meanwhile, Strauss said they could not wait to get started.

"The guys are chomping at the bit to get out there and play now. There's been a big build-up, but everything's going exactly according to plan.

"The guys are all pretty confident and very excited about the prospect of going out there and representing their country in an Ashes series, which is a pretty big thing for any England cricketer."