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Alastair Cook demands big runs from England's top batsmen in upcoming Ashes

Alastair Cook: "Big runs make a massive difference and can set the game up."

England skipper Alastair Cook has told his batsmen they must improve if they are to secure a fourth-straight Ashes win over Australia this winter.

England flew out of Heathrow on Wednesday evening ahead of the return series - less than two months after sealing a 3-0 win at The Oval.

Only Ian Bell emerged from the series with a better Test average after scoring 562 runs and Cook acknowledges the batsmen, himself included, were far from their best this summer.

"Most of the time in Australia, 400 is the bare minimum in the first innings, so that's the job of the top order."

Alastair Cook

"It was a tough summer. 3-0 was a good result and we'd love to do that again, but top-order runs in Australia are vitally important," he said.

"We saw last time how big runs make a massive difference and can set the game up. Sometimes in England, 250 can be a good score with the overhead conditions, but most of the time in Australia, 400 is the bare minimum in the first innings, so that's the job of the top order.

"Then it's about controlling the game with the ball, which I thought we did well this summer."

Happy memories

Cook enjoyed a wonderful series in Australia in 2010/11 - scoring more than 700 runs on Australia's quick and bouncy wickets - and he would love to rediscover that form when England touch down on the other side of the world.

"I had a good time last time and it would be great to repeat that," he added. "I enjoy batting in those conditions, when the ball is flying past your ears a lot. As an opening batsman it's a great place to test your skills, but then in the afternoon sessions it can be fantastic to bat once you get through the new ball.

Less than two months after the final Ashes test of the summer and England will travel to Australia today for the return series.

"Australia bowled well this summer and I didn't execute as well as I could have done. It happens in cricket. You'd love to score runs all the time. I could have done better, I want to lead from the front and set the example and get the big runs."

England will play three warm-up matches - a three-day match in Perth and two four-dayers in Hobart and Sydney - before the first of five Tests, which begins on November 21 in Brisbane, and Cook says the squad are eager to get going.

"The two month break has been great. The players are raring to go, even those who have been playing one-dayers. It's great to get that buzz again at the start of a tour. The lads are ready.

"There are places up for grabs. The warm-up games are important for us to get used to conditions. In an ideal world, everyone gets a lot of time in the middle in those three games and the bowlers get some miles in their legs.

"Winning in Australia is no mean feat so that is the challenge we have ahead of ourselves. We know what we have to do; score big first-innings runs and then apply pressure with the ball and restrict run-rates, because that's the way to build pressure on good wickets."