As Kevin Pietersen completes his journey from leader to foot-soldier in the England dressing room, Andrew Strauss has urged his team to "think on their feet" on the eve of their departure to the Caribbean.
Strauss was named England captain last week, following Pietersen's resignation after his high-profile clash with the coach, Peter Moores, who was sacked. Strauss, England's interim captain in 2006 when Michael Vaughan was injured but who was overlooked for the captaincy in the subsequent Ashes, insisted that his players must begin to take responsibility for their form.
"We want to get back to doing what do we best, playing cricket and winning Test matches," said Strauss. "My belief is we want to see players think on their feet out in the middle, take responsibility for the situation and not leave it to someone else.
"The only way we can do that is to give them more responsibility off the field as well. I'm challenging my players to start thinking a bit more about what they need to do in terms of preparation and I'm giving them a lot more flexibility to do that."
England travel to the West Indies without a head coach, with Andy Flower - Moores's assistant during his tenure - acting as an unofficial interim, supported by Phil Neale, the team operations manager, and other specialist coaches and support staff. "I suppose the coaches will play more of an advisory or consultancy role," Strauss said. "It's vitally important the players are challenged to think for themselves."
Pietersen had his first net at Lord's last week since stepping down as captain and, despite concerns that he could hot-foot it to India to play in the Indian Premier League, has the full support of Strauss who yesterday was adamant that he would score "millions of runs" for England.
"Kevin was his normal self when we met up," said Strauss. "I've never seen Kevin show a negative side to him since the first day I met him. He's very positive, he doesn't dwell on the past and I'm sure he's already plotting ways of spanking the West Indies bowlers all over the place."
Pietersen has not, however, been named on the team's management committee for the Tests against West Indies, which will instead comprise Andrew Flintoff, Paul Collingwood, Alastair Cook and Stuart Broad, with Pietersen stepping in for the ODIs when Cook flies home.
"The reality is that I thought that this was something that functioned very well under Duncan Fletcher," said Strauss. "It is a great way for the management to get feedback from the players as to how things are going - what things are going well and what is going badly. But also it is crucial for the players to have a voice. The last thing I want is a 'them and us' atmosphere in the dressing room.
"But you can't have all the players in that management group, otherwise it would not function properly. I will be very, very keen to get as many views as I can from KP in the coming weeks. I suppose as much as anything it is a case of gradually re-introducing him. Looking forward he is going to play a very big role, but he has had a lot on his plate very recently. It is very important that he has the ability to concentrate on his batting and getting the runs that we know he can.
I will be very, very keen to get as many views as I can from KP in the coming weeks. I suppose as much as anything it is a case of gradually re-introducing himStrauss on his predecessor
Instead, Collingwood and Flintoff will represent the senior members of the squad, with Cook and Broad - two potential future captains - also given their chance to air their views. "I wanted to bring a couple of the younger players in and I think that it is important to develop them going forward," said Strauss. "I know that those senior players involved have got very strong thoughts on how we can go forward and I would like to hear those. I think it is very healthy and I think it is going to help us.
"It was very important that KP was on the one-day leg, partly because he has been captaining [in] one-day cricket recently, and I haven't. Also that he has got a huge amount to offer one-day cricket in terms of the way he looks to play opposition bowlers. It is very important that we involve him as much as possible - that is not seen to be involving him, it is just because he is an important part of the dressing room."
Dressing-room unity will be crucial to England's fortunes in a series in which they are favourites, but against opponents whom it is unwise to write off. "We want to win both the Test and one-day series and start building some momentum before an important summer," said Strauss. "The West Indies are now a very dangerous side. The likes of Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Chris Gayle and Fidel Edwards are all very dangerous cricketers."
When it comes to dangerous cricketers, however, England have a few of their own, not least Steve Harmison, who was at his absolute zenith on their last tour to the Caribbean in 2003-04. He launched the series at Sabina Park with career-best figures of 7 for 12, and later in the year was rated the leading fast bowler in the world.
"If Steve Harmison is bowling well and at 90mph, he's the first name on pretty much any team sheet in the world," said Strauss. "Clearly he's as frustrated as anyone that he hasn't been able to do that as consistently as he'd like, but I've spoken to him a couple of times since we've come back from India and he has a clear understanding of where he needs to go to bowl consistently at that sort of pace.
"In keeping with giving players responsibility I'm quite happy with what he's said to me in terms of how he's going to get there. I'm confident. He's a very important player for us in terms of the threat that he gives us on the pitch. But off the pitch he's a shoulder to cry on for some of the younger players and that's very useful. We all feel this could be a really big tour for him and looking forward to the Ashes if he can hit his straps on this tour we're in a good position."
For the moment, a return to winning ways would be a start, although in terms of assessing their progress, England have little to gain on this trip. West Indies and New Zealand (twice) are the only two nations that England beat during Moores's time in charge, both of whom are ranked among the weaker opponents. Strauss pressed the need for England to rediscover the tough streak which made them so formidable in the run-up to the 2005 Ashes.
"We've been playing some decent cricket over the last year but we haven't nailed it home when we've needed to," he said. "If we can start being a little bit more ruthless in the way we play, we are a match for most sides."