The wait is over. The time has finally come for the talking to stop and the battle to commence. Can England retain the Ashes?

The Ashes has arrived

That little urn may be the smallest trophy in world sport but it remains the biggest prize in cricket for both England and Australia, who face each other in the first test in Brisbane on Thursday.

The past few weeks have been filled with typical pre-series verbal jousting but a disproportionate amount of it has come from the Australian camp. Legendary spinner, Shane Warne, recently described Kevin Pietersen as an ‘outcast’ in England’s dressing room.

Mitchell Johnson, leader of Australia’s bowling attack, also revealed he plans to target England’s captain, Andrew Strauss, by aiming for his head.

“You have got to get your bouncer high to him. Just be an aggressive bowler at him,” he said.

Such comments serve to increase the hype surrounding this year’s eagerly awaited Ashes series but also perhaps show that Australia are not as confident as they are accustomed to being and even fear England’s current side.

The Baggy Greens are not the force that they have been in the recent past. They have several inexperienced players in their ranks and even handed a surprise call-up to Xavier Doherty. Totally untried at test level, he has only played 35 first-class matches in his nine year career to date.

England on the other hand have an extremely settled side and preparations for the series have been unusually smooth. Their form is excellent, having won two and drawn one of their warm-up matches and the team contains three of the five Wisden Cricketers of the year in Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and Matt Prior.

You could be forgiven for thinking, therefore, that England are huge favourites. Far from it. They have not won the Ashes on Australian soil since 1986-87, when they were inspired by Ian Botham, and were on the wrong end of a 5-0 whitewash in 2007. The conditions and the crowd will favour Australia, who still possess quality, spirit and most of all an impregnable desire to beat the English.

However, this is England’s greatest chance to win in Australia for a generation. The players are ready, determined, focused, prepared and most importantly have the ability to succeed. The last 24 years of cricketing history is waiting to be forgotten as the drama unfolds over the coming six weeks.

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