Gilchrist impressed but unworried by hosts

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The Independent Online

Tourist matches at Grace Road in recent seasons have been low-key affairs, watched by a handful of spectators and presenting opportunities for senior players to let hopeful rookies take centre stage. It will not be quite that way when Australia roll up today.

Fresh from their comfortable easing-in to the Ashes tour at Arundel on Thursday, when they beat a PCA Masters team in a rehearsal for Monday's Twenty20 match against England at the Rose Bowl, the tourists play Leicestershire over 50 overs. A crowd of 5,000 is anticipated.

Such enthusiasm will be no surprise to the tourists, as their wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist explained.

"The level of interest has been building for more than 12 months," he said. "England's record has simply heightened the awareness. Everyone is excited at the prospect of England performing well in an Ashes series and rightly so. And they have every reason to be more optimistic than previously, just on the basis of their record over the last 18 months."

Any notion that the Australians are worried, however, can be knocked on the head immediately. Indeed, Gilchrist insists England have many questions to answer between now and the final Test at the Oval in September.

"England have improved and their optimism is justified," he said. "It promises to be a close series and I just hope it lives up to expectations, but if it is an even series I would still like to come out on the winning side. I don't want to leave having lost the Ashes but I don't feel under any more pressure than in previous tours.

"It seems like this will be the biggest challenge we will have faced for a few years, although India was pretty difficult. It is exciting but there is a question mark over England because while they have improved they have not been challenged."

And he warned that little should be read into early results, even if England win at the Rose Bowl.

"They will definitely have the edge there because of the cricket they have already played," he said. "We have not played for eight or nine weeks so there will be some rustiness, that's for sure.

"But by the time the serious end of the one-dayers and the Tests come along we will not be able to have that excuse."

Not that the "non-serious" one-dayers will see Australia's approach differ from the norm that their dominance of world cricket has established.

"I don't think anyone is under any illusions about what the highest priority is this summer," he said. "But the first hurdle is the one-dayers and we pride ourselves on being No 1 in both forms of the game and every time we play we give somebody the opportunity to bridge the gap we have established between ourselves and the rest. We take great pride in our one-day performances.

"Success in the one-dayers does not necessarily mean anything on the first morning of the first Test but it would be nice to have a strong wave of momentum. They are important from an individual perspective because if you have wickets and runs under your belt you are going to be more settled and more comfortable in the conditions."

Asked to name the England players about whom the Australians are most worried, he took a predictably diplomatic guard.

"Flintoff, Harmison and Vaughan are the obvious dangers but Geraint Jones has brought an extra dimension to their game," he said. "We will treat them all with respect."