The ASHES 2006/2007The waiting is over -- with the much-hyped Ashes cricket series between Australia and England finally getting under way today after 14 months of mounting expectation.
England's magnificent series win over the Aussies last year has generated interest and ticket sales not witnessed Down Under since the halcyon days of Don Bradman and the 1932-1933 "Bodyline" series and all is set for a gripping five-match series.
Australian captain Ricky Ponting and his English counterpart Andrew Flintoff yesterday spoke of their relief that the action was about to start at the Gabba ground.
"The hype surrounding this series has been going on for what seems ages. We're one day away from what could be the biggest Test series ever," Flintoff told reporters. "The team and I just want to get started. We want to play some cricket. There's been a lot written and a lot said and now it's time to get out on the pitch and play some cricket. It's nice that it's almost come to an end and we can actually go out there and have a bat and a bowl."
Ponting, who has faced countless press conferences looking ahead to the much-touted series, said the Australians were excited to get the show on the road.
"For 14 months we've all been looking forward to this day coming around. The cricket-loving people around the world have been waiting for this series to come round again," he said.
Both teams have been careful to avoid mentioning the pressure of the occasion, with England desperate to hold on to the Ashes they won last year after 18 years and Australia facing huge national expectations to get them back.
"[Last year] was a huge achievement for us and now we have the chance to defend the Ashes out here in Australia it's going to be even better, Flintoff said. "The hype surrounding it, the interest in it from the Australian public and all the English people coming over and the English people back home watching it and if we did pull it off it would be amazing."
Ponting, who has the unwelcome distinction of becoming the Australian captain who lost the Ashes, said his players hurt when they saw the urn handed over at The Oval in September last year but that was all now in the past.
"I don't think it affected me any more than any other player. We were all hurting from it. We're over that now and it's a matter of performing well in the five Test matches starting tomorrow," he said
Led by match-winning all-rounder Flintoff, England have their best chance of winning a series in Australia in 20 years.
The Australian team, accustomed to having their own way in world cricket, had their period of introspection over the upset loss of the Ashes and are consumed by retrieving the urn amid crushing national expectation.
Australia are expected to go into the first Ashes Test relying on four bowlers to share the workload after Shaun Tait was released from the squad on the eve of the match.
The South Australian tearaway was considered surplus to requirements yesterday and allowed to leave the team camp to return home, leaving selectors to choose between Stuart Clark and Mitchell Johnson for the third pace bowler spot to support Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee.
England had better news on injured No.3 batsman Ian Bell after he made it through a net session yesterday with his badly bruised hand after being struck in practice the previous day.