Australia are in town. But then they always seem to be around these days. They were here in 2009 and again in 2010 and England went visiting there, it may be recalled, in 2010-11. Aussies, aren'tchajustsickof'em?
There are two lots of their cricketers in England (and Ireland) this summer. The senior team begin their one-day tour today with a match against Leicestershire at Grace Road , they will be in Belfast on Saturday, and they play the first of five one-day internationals against England next week.
But in case that is simply not enough, Australia A, whose squad contains six of the same players, will play two mini-Test matches against England Lions in August. Next year, Australia will be back for the Ashes and their chairman of selectors, John Inverarity, has made no secret of the intent behind it, "a focus on the Ashes tour of 2013 and familiarising a number of our less experienced international players and back-up players with English conditions".
England then return to Australia late in 2013 for another Ashes series and will be back there again for a one-day series before the 2015 World Cup, which is why this summer's visit has been arranged, part of a reciprocal agreement. Thus is the greatest of all sporting rivalries being devalued by its frequency.
Part of the beauty of it has been the sense of anticipation each time they meet. Between July 2009 and February 2011 they met each other 34 times in all forms of the game and now here we go again. On the other hand, it is an opportunity to have a sneak preview of some players who Australia intend to be their future. Peculiar how the Ashes came to mean so little and how blasé they became during the long period of dominance between 1989 and 2005 and how desperately they want them back now.
Two of their tyro fast bowlers in particular will exercise attention and could be the object of spying missions by England's analysts. Patrick Cummins, 19, from Sydney and James Pattinson, 22, from Melbourne, already carry a nation's hopes and are being wrapped in cotton wool after long absences through injury.
Cummins has been suffering from a chronic heel injury after making a remarkable Test debut in Cape Town against South Africa last November, when his 6 for 79 followed by a nerveless 13 not out were vital in earning a two-wicket victory. Pattinson has had severe back trouble but in five Test matches has already shown enough menace to take 26 wickets. He is the brother of Darren, who controversially played one Test match for England in 2008 despite having lived for most of his life in Australia.
Neither Cummins nor Pattinson will appear in every match and Australia have drawn up a three-year programme to help Cummins stay injury-free. To counter the inexperience of this pair, who will both stay around for the A tour, is the 35-year-old Brett Lee, indelibly impressed on the mind of English cricket for his part in the 2005 Ashes. This really should be his last hurrah on these shores.
The other players on both senior and A tours are fast bowler Mitchell Johnson, who had a spell contemplating his future, and batsmen George Bailey and Peter Forrest, aged 29 and 26, which may indicate that Australia's batting resources are not plentiful.
There is a new wicketkeeper in Matthew Wade but while he already has a Test century, against West Indies in Dominica, the first to be scored there by a non-West Indian, the selectors appear to be keeping their options open. Tim Paine will do the job for the A team.
Another five matches this summer between the old rivals, another possible 20-odd in 2013 and early 2014. Aussies, don'tchajustlove'em?
Three of a kind: Aussie pacemen aiming to put the wind up England
(right arm fast)
Age 19 State New South Wales
Tests 1 Wkts 7 Ave 16.71 Best 6/79
ODIs 3 Wkts 5 Ave 30 Best 3/28
T20Is 2 Wkts 5 Ave 10.40 Best 3/25
Took seven wickets on debut against South Africa, with 6 for 79 in second innings. Youngest to be contracted since system introduced in 1998.
(right arm fast medium)
Age 22 State Victoria
Tests 5 Wkts 26 Ave 18.96 Best 5/27
ODIs 5 Wkts 8 Ave 28.37 Best 4/51
T20Is 4 Wkts 3 Ave 34.66 Best 2/17
Younger brother of England one-Test wonder Darren. Fast-tracked after six wickets for Victoria. Took 5 for 27 on his Test debut against New Zealand.
(right arm fast medium)
Age 29 State Victoria
Tests 1 Wkts 1 Ave 101 Best 1/56
ODIs 28 Wkts 52 Ave 21.84 Best 5/28
T20Is 4 Wkts 2 Ave 44.50 Best 2/24
Made international debut in 2009, dismissing Sachin Tendulkar no less. However, a disastrous Test debut has since kept him reserved to one-day duty.Reuse content