Countdown to the Ashes: Flintoff's England fly to Sydney for 'maybe the biggest series ever'

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The England captain, Andrew Flintoff, boarded a plane to Sydney at Heathrow last night, claiming that the forthcoming Ashes series in Australia could be "the biggest ever".

The England team will fly to Sydney, via Hong Kong, to begin their preparations for the first Test, which starts in Brisbane on 23 November.

Expectations for the series are much higher than previous tours Down Under following England's superb performance in regaining the famous urn during a dramatic summer last year.

"It is going to be tough," Flintoff said. "We know that 2005 was something special and whether that can be recreated I am not quite sure," he said. "In England, each Test match got bigger and bigger and we got a real feeling of what the Ashes was about.

"It was the first time I had played in them and this is the first time I will have played an Ashes series in Australia. So, too, for a few of the lads and there is a real excitement. This is the reason we play. We are going over there to play in what could be the biggest series ever so there is an excited group of lads."

The England batsman Ian Bell was yesterday named Emerging Player of the Year at the inaugural International Cricket Council award ceremony in Mumbai. Ricky Ponting, the Australia captain, was named Player of the Year.