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Ashes series set to reignite old rivalry

From Jack Martin, CNN Traveller
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • England are in Australia to contest the Ashes series, which begins on November 25
  • England have not won an Ashes series away from home since 1987
  • Australia are looking to bounce back after losing the 2009 contest
  • The last time the series was in Australia, the hosts romped to a 5-0 victory
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This preview features in the November - December edition of CNN Traveller magazine.

(CNN) -- The impending Ashes Test cricket series in Australia promises to be a cracker.

On the surface, the teams seem evenly matched and, while Australia have home advantage, England perhaps shade it in terms of experience.

The Ashes is one of the world's great sporting spectacles. The term was first coined in 1882, after England suffered a heavy defeat by Australia and the nation's cricket was supposedly cremated.

The contest has seen no end of epic encounters, heroism and controversy. When the two teams last met, in England in 2009, the home side emerged victorious after a closely contested five Test series that went down to the wire. The same was true in 2005.

In between those two series, however, there was the little matter of the meeting in Australia, in 2006-7, when the home side hammered their old rivals 5-0.

The good news for the English is that many of the team that thrashed them back then have since retired and others are experiencing the inexorable march of Father Time.

Skipper Ricky Ponting will celebrate his 36th birthday during the series and his batting colleagues Simon Katich and Mike Hussey (both 35) are no spring wombats, either.

Still, they have had a good opportunity to prove their collective form prior to facing England. Somewhat controversially, the Aussies had a tough tour to India as preparation, comprising two Test matches and three one-day internationals. They'll be hoping key players came through that challenge without picking up any injuries, but, whether they did or not, Australia have been tested against top-class opposition as part of their Ashes preparation.

England won't have any such yardstick. The team's summer Test series were, to put it mildly, a disappointment. That wasn't the home side's fault, it was more that they faced an under-gunned Bangladesh team followed by a Pakistan outfit that was, at very best, erratic.

While dispatching both teams with relative ease, England weren't without their issues. Opening batsman Alistair Cook looked out of sorts for most of the summer and Kevin Pietersen, hero of the Ashes victory of 2005, seemed all too often to have lost the ability to concentrate.

Much may depend on the South African-born Jonathan Trott, a gritty grafter, capable of holding an innings together, and Ian Bell, provided he can show the mental strength to overcome an Australian attack that will be out to rattle him from his first ball.

On the bowling front, England's James Anderson is one of the best swing bowlers in the world and, in Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett, England have a trio of giant quicks who'll be hoping to get considerable lift from the hard Australian pitches.

They'll also be looking to make early inroads into that Australian batting line up, because once the likes of Ponting, Michael Clarke and Shane Watson get set they can cut loose.

Australia will be hoping for big things from Clarke and Watson. The former averages over 50 in Test cricket and is Ponting's likely successor as Australia captain. The latter, an all-rounder turned opening batsman, should be well-placed to attack the English spin-bowling options of Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar -- provided he can overcome the new ball assault.

As is often true in sport, much will be defined by the opening exchanges. Cricket fans will be watching with baited breath when battle commences on 25 November in Brisbane.