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England arrive in Australia for Ashes defence
Julian Linden | November 05, 2006 16:39 IST
A small band of 30 English supporters joined a pack of reporters, photographers and television crews as captain Andrew Flintoff led his 15 team mates through the Customs Hall and into the waiting tour bus.
"The hype surrounding it has been going on for a long time," Flintoff told a news conference.
"We have finally arrived in Australia and myself and the team are very excited, it's going to be huge. It's going to be a fantastic series and one that we want to get underway.
"It's going to be tough but it's one of the most enjoyable series we will play in.
The England 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.
"A lot of the lads will not have played a series in Australia before," Flintoff said. "So we've come here open-eyed looking forward to playing in different conditions against the best team in the world.
"They are not scarred by previous defeats. It's a very young side that wants to impress."
Tickets for each of the five Tests sold out within hours of being released 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 their 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.