Familiarity breeds great content for Ponting

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The Independent Online

Australia were due to arrive at Heathrow Airport at 5am today, almost sneaking into the country by stealth to mug our cricketers. This will probably be the last thing they do that goes unnoticed for the next 14 weeks and the feeling persists that they will not be leaving that way.

Australia were due to arrive at Heathrow Airport at 5am today, almost sneaking into the country by stealth to mug our cricketers. This will probably be the last thing they do that goes unnoticed for the next 14 weeks and the feeling persists that they will not be leaving that way.

This expeditionary force is here to contest the seemingly endless round of one-day matches before the main business of the summer begins in late July but the key players, bar two, are in both squads. Only Shane Warne and Justin Langer are not in the limited-overs party - for differing reasons.

It is astonishing how familiar the names are, from Ricky Ponting at the top of the team list to Glenn McGrath at the bottom. Partly, that is because the game is so thoroughly televised and reported, but partly it is because so many of them have passed this way before. Of the team who played in the final Test here four years ago, only the Waugh brothers are not with us this time.

This is a sure indication that triumph and not disaster has accompanied these Australians for so long, but it also gives England some reason to hope that they can be defeated. The thinking goes that if they are still around after so long, they are not only successful but also getting on a bit.

By the end of this tour only one of the players who last started a Test match for Australia, in March, and are therefore likely to start the next one against England, will still be in his twenties. That is remarkable for a sporting team.

There is no sign of fatigue or satiation but, you never know, an early setback or two, a dodgy pitch or two and the mind may start to think of less onerous days ahead. The body may also rebel along with the mind.

First, the one-day stuff is to be waded, rather than glided through. It always has an appeal of its own but with the seven likely matches between England and Australia - three in the triangular NatWest Series plus the final, as Bangladesh definitely will not qualify, and then three more in the one-off NatWest Challenge - the RSPCA should be alerted to stop this misguided slaughter of geese laying golden eggs, the yolk of which will one day end up on cricket administrators' faces.

The England and Wales Cricket Board will point to the sell-out notices for all the matches and it is difficult to resist. So desperate are people to see the Aussies that they are willing to be blackmailed - as in "Buy a ticket to see Bangladesh and you can be guaranteed one for Australia", as has happened at both the Riverside and Headingley.

If the one-dayers become less important aesthetically, no team will wish to lose repeatedly. For England especially it will be important to secure an early win or two over Australia, while hoping both that Stephen Harmison fires a shot or two across their bows while at the same time not revealing his entire weaponry.

All hail Australia. The summer is about to start.

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