Ponting begins Ashes mind games ahead of one-day series

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Ricky Ponting hit town yesterday and said that the Ashes start here. Not for Australia's captain any pretence of refusing to take part in a phoney war, rather the hard-nosed, clear-eyed declaration of hostilities.

He and his team are in England more imminently for a series of five one-day internationals against their old Test enemy to be followed by matches in all formats against Pakistan. But Ponting is cute enough to know, as he demonstrated yesterday when he arrived in London, that all roads lead to Brisbane in November.

"I think it's really good for the game," he said. "That's the beauty of the Test series we play in, that players and spectators can't wait for them to come around. It starts now, the whole build-up to the Ashes.

"We're not talking about the Ashes right now, we're talking about this series but everything we do from now is about getting playing the best cricket we can, getting ourselves in the best physical and mental shape as possible. Absolutely, it's time for us to keep one eye on the Ashes series."

Australia, of course, are trying to reclaim the urn. The last time they did that four years ago when Ponting was also in charge they won 5-0. England can consider themselves warned.

For now, they have their other old enemy to play. Few contests between England and Scotland can have stirred quite so few passions as the cricket match in Edinburgh today.

Were Scotland to win, of course, cool detachment would soon become patriotic fervour usually seen only when marking the triumph at Bannockburn 696 years ago next week. But they will not and it will not, unless the Duckworth Lewis method, in particularly abbreviated form, is needed to determine the result and that would not have quite the same resonance down the years.

The one-day international is being played as a warm-up for England before the more serious, if excessive, business of the series against Australia begins next Tuesday. It also invests Scottish cricket with a status it does not at present quite warrant, for they have seen better days in the past decade.

Following 124 rugby matches and 110 football internationals (the last in 1999), this is the second recognised one-day cricket match between the countries. The first, two years ago, was washed out as England launched their reply to Scotland's score of 156 for nine.

Scotland will welcome the return of their captain, Gavin Hamilton, who missed the six wicket defeat to Netherlands in Rotterdam on Tuesday. England will have a new one-day opening partnership in their captain, Andrew Strauss, and the wicketkeeper, Craig Kieswetter. They would like to think that this is the pairing that will serve them in the World Cup next year. Paul Collingwood and Stuart Broad will return after being rested during the Test series against Bangladesh.

It is entirely possible, as part of their planning for the World Cup, that England will play both their spinners, Graeme Swann and Mike Yardy, which would probably be a first in Scotland at this time of year. But it may not be enough to make the blood rise.

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