Ponting lives for challenge of present

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The Independent Online

The Tasmanian batsman was only 11 when the Ashes were last lost to England, since when captains Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh have ensured that the last eight series have passed without defeat. During that period England have won only one Test - the spectacular 1997 success at Edgbaston - while the series was still alive, leaving Ponting's 2005 squad with little room for improvement.

It means Ponting has everything to lose but he is determined not to be the first Australian captain to return home without the Ashes in 20 years. "I'm not looking at it as me being the first captain to lose the Ashes, I'm looking at it more as being just another Australian captain to retain the Ashes," Ponting said yesterday. "I don't think there is any more pressure on this team than any other series that we play, either. We've gone into every series we've played pretty much over the last 10 years as favourites and have been expecting to win. That might not be the same this time, but that's nothing we think about - we're here to play the best cricket we can."

Australia have built their success on overwhelming confidence in their ability to beat just about every team in the world in nearly all conditions, which has established them as the best Test and one-day side.

But nagging in the back of their minds may also be a recent record against England which has been less impressive than in past years, including defeat in their last Test at Sydney two years ago and fairly evenly matched one-day encounters over the past year.

Yet just as Australia do not look back on the recent history of success against England, they will also not dwell on their recent defeats either as they prepare for Thursday's first Test.

"We won't think about the past," Ponting said. "It's a nice thing to have behind us and there will be less pressure on us going into this series with those stats behind us, but one of the strengths of this team is that we don't ever think about what's happened in the past. We try and stay in the present and prepare ourselves as well as we can for every game that we play."

Unlike previous series, when England have often started at a disadvantage either through injury or a bad first day to the opening Test, this time they will start with momentum having won their five previous series. It is a record which has earned Australia's respect and set up one of the most eagerly awaited Ashes series in recent years, with the build-up starting as far back as last summer when Ponting was fielding questions about it during his time as Somerset's overseas player.

"We've always looked forward to and cherished Ashes battles in the past," Ponting said. "England have always had very good teams coming up against us over the last 20 years even if they haven't played the way they would have liked.

"But this side have certainly achieved a lot of great things over the past year or so. Their Test record speaks for itself - you don't get to be the No 2 ranked team in the world without achieving a lot."

Ponting, who is on his third Ashes tour having lost only two of the eight Tests he has played on English soil, conceded: "England thoroughly deserve their ranking and have beaten nearly everyone they have come up against in Test cricket over the last couple of years.

"That would indicate they have improved quite a bit as a team, which makes it more exciting for us and makes it more of a challenge for us and that's why this series has been built up the way it has for so long.

"I was asked about this series as far back as 12 months ago when I was playing, so that's how big the build-up is," Ponting said. "This is the one tour that every Australian, young or old, wants to go on.

"You travel around the country on a team coach for three or four months and have a lot of fun and we also play at some really great venues in the home of cricket, which makes it extra special for us."