We go into the latest edition of the 133-year cricketing tradition between England and Australia with one team aiming to turn its positive preparation into Ashes gold and the other trying to reunify amid the shambles. This time around, it is the hosts, Australia, who have to bear the woes of injury and wishy- washy form while the tourists are sitting relatively pretty.
Aussie captain Ricky Ponting's motley crew go into the series on a three-Test losing streak, a succession of results that hasn't taken place for over the last twenty years. 1988 was also the last time Australia lost a match at the Gabba. England will be looking to re-write history with the perfect start to a long and challenging series in a bid to retain the coveted urn.
England's lead up to the Ashes has been nothing short of spectacular. They have been unbeaten in their warm-up matches, drawing one and winning too, including an ominous performance against Australia A last week. The whole team seems to be in prime form and raring to go. In fact, so incredibly have they blended as a team, that the manager could even afford the comfort of splitting it and sending the bowlers early to Brisbane to acclimatise.
It has been nearly a quarter century since Australia lost the Ashes at home, back when Ricky Ponting was still a pre-pubescent and England skipper Andrew Strauss was living in Victoria. Given the extensive re-modifications that Australia has gone through in the last several months, not to mention their prosperous encounters, England undoubtedly hold the edge.
Australian left arm fast bowler Mitchell Johnson, is one the key men for his side. A lot of the responsibility to instill some fear into the English batsmen lies on his shoulders. Emerging from a bout of poor form in the international arena, he will have to make the ball move and grip and bounce as best he can to unsettle the tourists. If his turn last week when he combined a century with a five-wicket haul for Western Australia is anything to go by, then he is back in the prime of form. But this time, the stakes are higher, the challenge even bigger.
His opposite number in the English side Stuart Broad, will be another man to watch out for. He was largely responsible for England's successful outing in the Ashes the last time around. He is capable of varying his length and getting the ball to swing and bounce, just the right combination to faze the opponent bats. He is also no mug with the bat and can be both solid and stylish while piling on runs.
The Ashes is something of a family tradition for him for it was his father Chris, who lifted the urn in 1986-87 and the family name will be venerated if he can help re-accomplish the feat.
In the Australian team news, middle-order batsman Michael Clarke will indeed play for his side despite the degenerative condition of his back being a major concern. Seamer Peter Siddle will play his first Test since January this year after edging out Dougie Bollinger for the final bowling position, and Xavier Doherty will make his debut at the Gabba.
The pitch at the Gabba has earned a reputation of being conducive for the fast bowlers. It has also proved to be quite a challenging track to bat on with some first class teams being bowled out for less than a hundred. The moist atmosphere and the hint of rain and cloud cover will also assist the seamers in getting lateral movement.
Australia team: 1 Simon Katich, 2 Shane Watson, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Michael Hussey, 6 Marcus North, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Xavier Doherty, 10 Peter Siddle, 11 Ben Hilfenhaus.
England team: 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Ian Bell, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 James Anderson, 11 Steven Finn.