BRISBANE, November 24 – Skipper Andrew Strauss said Wednesday he was confident his players could pull off 'something pretty special' and win England's first Ashes series in Australia in a generation.
The five-Test series gets underway on Thursday with England chasing their first victory at the Brisbane Gabba fortress since Mike Gatting’s team last prevailed on their way to the tourists’ last Australian series victory in 1986/87.
Strauss said his team was well prepared from three tour leadup games in Australian conditions and was ready to lay down a marker in the all-important first match against Ricky Ponting’s under pressure home team.
Australia have not won a Test since July, slipping below England in the world rankings, and are battling injuries and loss of form affecting key players.
"We have got a good opportunity, there’s no doubt about it," Strauss told a press conference on the eve of the first Test.
"We’ve started the tour well, we’re in a good place as a side, but at the same time we recognise that it’s a tough assignment, not many sides come out here and win.
"We understand the size of the challenge ahead of us but we couldn’t be in a better place mentally to take on that challenge.
"It’s going to take a lot of good cricket. It’s going to take some guys pulling out some good performances when it really matters and guys will have to dig pretty deep.
"I am fully confident that we have the players to be able to do that.
"We are thriving on the idea that we can pull off something pretty special."
Strauss said it would be foolish for England to look too far ahead over the next six weeks and talk about winning the Ashes campaign.
"History suggests that not many people do that, so it’s a great challenge for me and for the team," he said.
"But to think of the finish line now is naive at best and dangerous at worst because there is so much cricket between now and then and if you want to win this Ashes series you have to earn the right to do it over and over again.
"I am not looking at that finishing post right at the moment. I’m looking at tomorrow and starting the series well."
Australia had some good news on Wednesday about their vice-captain Michael Clarke, who has satisfied medical staff over a back injury which flared in a recent Sheffield Shield game.
"Just finished training and the back got through," Clarke wrote on his Twitter feed Wednesday. "Wake up ok tomorrow and I’m in."
"Michael Clarke has got through his work particularly well over the last couple of days," Ponting told his press conference.
"He had a long solid bat in the nets again today (Wednesday), against the bowlers and the coach, so he’s come through pretty well."
While welcoming his deputy’s all-clear, Ponting said that left-arm paceman Doug Bollinger had been left out and would be released along with Clarke’s standby Usman Khawaja to play for NSW in Perth this weekend.
"Dougie (Bollinger) will be the unlucky quick to miss out," Ponting said.
"It’s probably his lack of bowling over the last few weeks that has been as much to do with it.
Australia will go into the first Test with three pacemen, Mitchell Johnson, Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle, along with allrounder Shane Watson while left-arm orthodox spinner Xavier Doherty is in line to make his Test debut.
"We feel this attack has enough to take us 20 wickets at the Gabba," Ponting said.
Ponting said although it was psychologically important to win the opening hour of a Test match to establish the pattern of the game, it would not make or break a team’s chances.
"Test cricket is about five hard long days over five different games and, as we’ve seen in the last couple of Ashes series, they have been decided at crucial moments long after that first hour of the first Test match," he said.
"We’ll be doing everything we can to win that first hour tomorrow.