The Ashes are about much more than a traditional spat between a mother country and one of her former dominions – with all that entails. They can rescue Test cricket.
Events of the next six weeks are expected to be viewed around Planet Cricket and if all goes according to plan they will give another fillip to a game that is constantly fighting decline. The Ashes of 2005 did Test cricket its biggest favour since its inception and while a reprise would be ridiculous to expect, there is no doubting the responsibilities of both England and Australia.
"I actually feel it has got bigger and bigger, the last few series in particular," said Australia's captain, Ricky Ponting. "Although we didn't like losing in 2005, I think it has led to a regeneration of Test cricket all round the world. It was an amazing series of cricket for anyone to be part of. From that moment on, every series we have played has just grown and grown and grown to the point where God knows how long we have been talking about this series in Australia. You have just got to look around this room here and see the excitement in all your eyes as well, and sold-out crowds is a great sign for Test cricket."
The first three days of each of the first three matches have sold out. Cricket Australia are breathing a huge sigh of relief that England remain such a draw since they need the money.
Andrew Strauss, the England captain, said: "Everyone is looking for Test cricket to show its potential and why we love it so much. If there is interest there that can only be good for us as players going out there to represent our country."
Before the series started, Strauss and Ponting were pictured holding the Ashes urn, or at least a replica – the real thing was secured, as always, in its glass case at Lord's, from where it will never be moved.
Four years ago the urn, under heavy security, did a tour of Australia, provoking calls that it should stay in the country of the holders. They were naturally ignored. Ponting, asked if the holders should look after the Ashes, said: "Why not? That would be good. I know there was a lot made of it last time, about how far it was but I'm sure with the technology available they can do something to make sure it's safe on a journey across the world."
The question is purely academic, though when pressed Strauss sided with MCC on the fragility issue. "I think it's at the home of cricket for a reason," he said. The captains went about their business briskly, though Ponting refuted any suggestion of frostiness between them.
"Not frosty, not at all," he said, though he did not claim mutual eternal friendship. "I was at Sydney airport flying up here and we bumped into each other there. We have known each other a long time, played a lot against each other and I guess been lucky enough to captain a lot of games. It was businesslike as you'd expect, two captains showing respect for each other and their teams doing what we have to do."Reuse content