England host Australia in the first Ashes Test starting on Wednesday without any of the obvious benefits of home advantage in a new venue with a relaid outfield.
Cardiff was controversially awarded the first test of the series with the traditional venues of Trent Bridge in Nottingham and Old Trafford in Manchester missing out. It will be the first Test match staged in Wales.
England's Andrew Strauss, captaining for the first time in an Ashes series, told reporters after his team's warmup match against Warwickshire that his players were "walking into the unknown".
"We are not entirely sure what to expect. Both teams will go there not knowing what to expect and we can only judge when the test match is over," he said. "In world cricket home advantage counts for a huge amount."
Image: England's Graham Onions (left), Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen attend a training session
They will do anything to regain the 'urn'
The pitch is expected to be slow but offering no obvious advantages to the spinners and designed to last for the full five days.
However, it is the bowling which holds the key in Cardiff and the remaining four Tests and both sides will be debating up to Wednesday morning just which combination gives the best prospect of 20 wickets in the match.
Australia's hope received a body blow on Monday when fast bowler Brett Lee was ruled out through injury.
Lee got the ball to reverse wickedly in the warmup match against the England Lions and was a certainty to return to the side after a successful ankle operation.
He would have formed a hostile pace trio with Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle with Stuart Clark and Nathan Hauritz disputing the remaining spot.
Image: England's Paul Collingwood (left) and Graeme Swann (right) join teammates as they take part in skipping during a training session
England's bowling hopes
James Anderson will head the England pace attack assisted by Stuart Broad, Flintoff and Onions if England opt for Graeme Swann as the only spinner.
Onions won selection ahead of Durham team mate Steve Harmison.
Harmison displayed genuine pace and disconcerting bounce for the England Lions against Australia in the drawn match that finished on Saturday, dismissing exciting new opener Phillip Hughes cheaply in both innings and taking six wickets overall.
However, he paid the price for his frustrating inconsistency in test cricket while Onions has reaped the reward of a fine first series against West Indies this year, including five for 38 figures on debut.
"Graham Onions was picked on what he has done in his last two test matches and his consistency in county cricket as well," chief selector Geoff Miller explained.
Image: England's James Anderson and Stuart Broad during a training session
The match winner
Andrew Flintoff returns after yet another injury break.
The England all-rounder has been quoted as saying that he was not thinking about revenge for the humiliating 5-0 Ashes defeat by Australia in 2006-07.
Flintoff deputised as captain for the injured Michael Vaughan during that series in Australia.
"It was tough for a while afterwards but that is a long way off and there have been a lot of things happen in my life since 2006," said Flintoff.
Flintoff, 31, has played in 75 Test matches, taking 218 wickets, scoring 3,645 runs and holding 51 catches. He was named man of the series after helping England to their first Ashes win for 18 years in 2005.
And four years later, he is still England's best hope.
Image: Andrew Flintoff
'It's going to be a fierce competition'
England have the option of playing two orthodox slow bowlers in off-spinner Graeme Swann and left-armer Monty Panesar.
"We have got the options there with spin, we could play two spinners and three seamers. We'll wait to see what the pitch produces," chief selector Geoff Miller was quoted as saying.
Although there is nothing like the fever pitch of anticipation that built up before the unforgettable 2005 Ashes series, interest is high in England because both sides look so evenly balanced.
"It's going to be a fierce competition but we're ready for it, we're excited about it and we're going to come out fighting," Pietersen said.
Image: Graeme Swann pulls a face during a training session