New-look Aussies out to take Ashes chance
It's finally here. After England's early summer curtain-raiser Test series against West Indies and the entertaining two-week ICC World Twenty20 to whet the appetite of cricket lovers, there are only two words in town now - the Ashes.
On 8 July the battle between England and Australia begins in Cardiff, but will it be an epic contest like the 2005 series which felt like two heavyweight boxers slugging it out for 12 rounds?
Time will tell but what is not in doubt is both England and Australia have undergone major transformations since then.
For Australia, out have gone such legends as Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist and Glenn McGrath and in have come Nathan Hauritz, Brad Haddin and former junior champion woodcutter Peter Siddle, hardly household names - yet.
Australia have been in England for more than a month and after being unexpectedly dumped out of the ICC World Twenty20 at the group stage, they have had rather more lead-up time to the summer's main fare than they would have liked.
But it has given them the chance to do a bit of sightseeing "visiting castles, that kind of stuff" and going to the theatre, as well as a handful of the squad watching rock band the Kings of Leon in London, or sampling the delights of tennis at Queen's Club.
There have also been very competitive golf days at The Belfry and Forest of Arden, with Ricky Ponting, who plays off just a two handicap, proving a success with a club in his hand too.
The squad was certainly in good spirits during the media day held at Sussex CCC's ground at Hove.
National and international broadcasters and writers had time to chat with each member of the 16-man squad as well as coach Tim Nielsen.
And you could tell by which tables were crowded and which ones were empty as to who journalists believed were going to be the important players this summer and those who were simply making up the numbers.
Poor Graham Manou (who?). The uncapped 30-year-old back-up wicketkeeper, nicknamed Choc, spent almost all his set 30 minutes twiddling his thumbs while at the other end of the scale, it's a pretty strong bet that fast bowler-cum-all-rounder Mitchell Johnson could have a big say in deciding the series. His table was swamped by journalists wanting to know all about his new-found inswing to right-handers as well as his purple patch with the bat.
With his pierced-tongue and gelled hair, he certainly looked a cool customer but Johnson appeared genuinely surprised at all the attention he was getting, pleading: "I'm not that interesting!"
Another popular interviewee was Hauritz, who is Australia's only dedicated spin bowler in the squad.
He knows there is a lot of pressure on his shoulders to fill such big boots as Warne's and fully expects Kevin Pietersen to be "running down the pitch" to him.
But Hauritz, who has played in four Tests so far, says he is confident in his own ability and went as far as to predict he could play a "big part in the Ashes".
Four years ago he was playing club cricket for Nelson, near James Anderson's stomping ground Burnley, in the Lancashire leagues as the dramatic series was unfolding.
"After the first Test, I was very chirpy, but then it went downhill from there. Both teams were so evenly matched, it was an awesome series," he recalls.
Another who has finally been given the chance is wicketkeeper Haddin, who waited for years for Gilchrist to retire.
He was philosophical about being an understudy for so long saying: "If my time never arrived, I could've lived with that. But thankfully Adam retired when he did."
But he is under no illusion how big a deal this series is: "Growing up in Australia it's always been the Ashes for me. It's the ultimate icon series."
So Australia are confident and chomping at the bit and cannot wait for the two warm-up matches against Sussex and then England Lions to be over so they get on with the real job in hand - defending the Ashes urn.
And although they are a relatively inexperienced side, they managed to beat South Africa on their travels and certainly have their tails up.
This summer new legends will be born, but who they are and on which team they will hail from are the tantalising questions.