The ASHES 2006/2007
England quick Steve Harmison fired the opening salvo in the most anticipated Ashes battle for generations yesterday to an almighty roar from a sell-out 42,000 crowd at Brisbane's Gabba stadium.
But the first delivery of the series did not go as planned for the hyped-up Harmison, who sprayed the ball well wide to second slip, giving Australian opener Justin Langer no chance of getting bat on ball.
However, the intricacies of the delivery mattered little to spectators keen for the campaign to begin after months of hype and mind-games from the English and Australian camps.
Fans decked out in the red and white of England's "Barmy Army" and the green and gold of the Australian "Fanatics" streamed into the ground from early morning, ribbing each other about their team's prospects in the series.
Roads around the ground were choked with traffic as spectators rushed to reach their seats for the start of play.
Those without tickets poured into Brisbane's pubs to watch the match on giant screens and bosses across the country turned a blind eye as office television sets were tuned into the Ashes coverage.
At one city hotel, a federal senator was spotted heading towards his room with a beer, apparently ready to settle down to watch events at the Gabba as matters of state were relegated to the backburner.
Patrons at the Pineapple Hotel, just down the road from the Gabba, spilled onto the street as they enjoyed an early morning beer in humid 32oC conditions before making their way to the ground.
"I've been coming to the Gabba Test since I was a boy," Australian fan Justin McMahon said.
"This one's a bit special though, it's not often that Australia have to try to regain the Ashes. It was a bit of a shock to us to lose last year and we're definitely out for revenge," he said.
It was a sentiment echoed by Australian fans across the city, which has been in the grip of Ashes fever for weeks amid a burning desire to claim international cricket's old trophy.
At the nearby Story Bridge Hotel, an open-top double decker carried cheering members of the Barmy Army, some 40,000 of whom have made the trip Down Under to support their team.
England fan Steve Davies from London said it was well worth the ?6,000 (US$11,500) he paid for flights tickets and accommodation to travel to Australia for the series.
"The Barmy Army are the best fans of any sport in the world," he said.
"We'll be out there supporting our team no matter what -- we don't have the win-at-all-costs attitude of the Aussies, it's all about having a laugh for us," he said.
Davies said the Australians had greeted the English warmly, although he was dismissive about the chances of the home team's Fanatics drowning out the soccer-style chants of the Barmy Army.
"They might win on the pitch but we'll always win in the stands," he said.
Fanatics member Scott McDermott said the sledging between the fans was always good-natured and never became aggressive.
"We'll always have a beer with them at the end of the day, even if it's only to tell them how bad they've played," he said.
The closeness between the fans was personified by Sydney man Andy Richies, who walked to the Gabba draped in a giant St George cross flag and England soccer shirt.
"I came over here as a baby but I was born in England and I'll always support them," he said in a broad Australian accent. "My Aussie mates always give me heaps."