England hoping to win Ashes on Aussie soil

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Wounded Australia or not, England will have to fight for every wicket and scrap for every run over the next six weeks if they are to return home with the Ashes for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century.

Australia are a team in transition, if not yet disarray, and have had pretty much the worst possible preparation for the series after seven successive defeats in all forms of cricket plus injuries and form slumps aplenty.

England, by contrast, are on the rise but also fully aware that if current form is on their side history is not.

Since World War Two, England have won only four series in Australia. One of those was against a virtual second XI during the rival World Series in 1978-9 and another against a team weakened by defections to rebel tours to South Africa in 1986-7.

Still the pressure before battle resumes in Brisbane on Thursday is firmly on Australian skipper Ricky Ponting, who knows his captaincy, and possibly his test career, would not survive a third Ashes defeat.

Ponting believes Australia have more than enough ability to reclaim the Ashes that England won on that dramatic day at the Oval last year if they play to their potential.

"There's a lot of doom and gloom around about this team and about Australian cricket, I think we all feel a lot more positive inside the dressing-room compared to what it looks like from the outside," he said after his last outing as Australia skipper, a one-day defeat to Sri Lanka at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

"But we can change what it looks like from the outside by starting winning games, we're all very aware of that."

The injury doubts over vice-captain Michael Clarke, who missed training with a bad back on Monday, will not improve the mood but when the 11 selected Australians take the field at the Gabba on Thursday, they know the nation will be behind them.

England's preparations have been smooth with two victories and a comfortable draw from three warm-up matches adding more confidence to a side who enjoyed a successful summer at home.

They may still have to win two tests to retain the Ashes, something they have not achieved on an Ashes tour since Mike Gatting's side last won in 1986-87.

Two of the three strike bowlers who will play in Brisbane have never played an Ashes contest in Australia, while the third, James Anderson, endured a torrid time on his last visit.

Their batting still looks fragile with much depending on Kevin Pietersen, who was dropped from the one-day side this year.

Gatting, however, believes England might just have the weapons to finally match the 1986-87 feat if they play as a team against the Australians.

"If you can get in front, and you can get your foot on the throat of that wounded animal, you can keep him down," he said this week. "That's what England have got to do but at the same time be very wary and respectful of the Australians."

Mitchell Johnson, who will lead the Australian pace attack in Brisbane, has spoken of the tears he shed watching England parade the Ashes around the Oval last year and that memory will clearly act as another motivation for the home side.

"We were bitterly disappointed to go down in the Oval but the hurt from that will hopefully spur us to better things in front of our home crowd," said opener Simon Katich.

Australia also know what happened in 2006-7 when Andrew Flintoff's side arrived to defend the Ashes following their victory in the unforgettable 2005 series. They suffered the first 5-0 whitewash in 86 years.

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