England arrive in Australia for Ashes defence

Published: Sunday, November 5, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Sydney:England's cricketers today arrived in Sydney to defend the Ashes against Australia in one of the most eagerly anticipated series in cricket history.

A small band of 30 English supporters joined a pack of reporters, photographers and television crews as Andrew Flintoff led his 15-teammates through the Customs Hall and into the waiting tour bus.

The players, dressed in suits and ties, appeared relaxed and refreshed after receiving the full pop-star treatment on the 24-hour long-haul flight from London.

Unlike some of their early predecessors who made the trip Down Under in steam ships, Flintoff's team travelled in real style, flying first-class in a jumbo equipped with flat beds, a private bar and even their own beauty therapist.

The low-key arrival was a far cry from the wild scenes and drunken celebrations that followed England's extraordinary series win last year, which breathed new life into one of sport's greatest rivalries.

Australia had held the Ashes since 1989 and there were genuine fears the series was starting to lose its appeal, but all that instantly changed with England's shock win.

Tickets for each of the five Tests sold out within hours of being released this year and around 30,000 English supporters are expected to make the trip to Australia.

England's opening match is a one-day game against the Australian Prime Minister's XI in Canberra on Friday. The first Ashes Test starts in Brisbane on Nov 23.

The series continues in Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne before the final Test starting at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Jan 2.

Despite their loss last year, Australia are strong favourites to regain the Ashes. Ricky Ponting's team are ranked number one in the world and have won 11 and drawn one of there 12 Tests since.

England are still ranked number two but have won just five of their 13 Tests since the last Ashes series, including one from a forfeit by Pakistan.


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