We can take Ashes and Aussies know it, say fired-up England

They were responding to comments made by Australia's spearhead Brett Lee, who has threatened to turn this five-Test series, which begins at Lord's tomorrow, into a bouncer war. Lee, one of only two bowlers to break the 100mph barrier, suggested that there would be fireworks over the coming week and that intimidation was "part of the game".

"The Aussies like putting themselves in the spotlight and bigging themselves up," the England fast bowler Matthew Hoggard said.

"But we are now the second-best side in the world. We are very capable of beating them, and they know it. They are scared and they are trying to put us down by acting like bullies. I think that this England side is not one that will roll over and play dead. They have seen how we can play in one-day games and Test matches. We have broken a lot of records in the last 18 months. They say we are good but we are not as good as them. We will see about that."

Hoggard also questioned the age of the two bowlers who have tormented England for more than a decade. Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath have taken 249 wickets against England in 48 Test matches but the 28-year-old Hoggard feels that their huge workload is beginning to take effect.

"Age is a factor," he said. "They are getting on a little and we have back-to-back Test matches, so it will be interesting to see if they can put in consistent performances over 25 days. The wickets will be flat and their guys will have to bowl a lot of overs.

"It will be tough for McGrath, and it will be interesting to see if he is still the world-class performer he was, and if Jason Gillespie can find some form. It will also be interesting to see if Warne can reproduce his best. He's getting on a bit and is not the force he was. He comes round the wicket a lot now and this is a defensive measure."

Marcus Trescothick and Kevin Pietersen, whose job it is to keep out Lee's 95mph thunderbolts, cannot wait for the contest to begin. Trescothick, who will face the fast bowler when he is armed with a hard, shiny new ball, has seen and heard it all before. It would be a greater surprise to him if Lee were to say before this series that he was going to resort to gentle, medium-pace away swingers. He and Pietersen believe that the home crowds could have a huge impact on the fate of the Ashes if they act as England's 12th man.

"The more the whole country can intimidate the Aussies, the easier it will be for us," Trescothick said. "The atmosphere at the Rose Bowl [during the Twenty20 match between England and Australia] was fantastic because we were playing well and everyone jumped on the bandwagon. In Australia we get it non-stop. You can't get away from it. Walking down the street, at the ground, on the boundary, everywhere. It would be great if we could return the compliment."

Pietersen, 24, will make his Test debut tomorrow. He made a sensational start to his international career when he scored three one-day hundreds during England's tour of South Africa, the country where he was born and raised.

Yet he is equally keen for a partisan crowd to show their support for England and get on the back of the Australians. "I don't think they like being on the wrong end of it," he said. "It would be great if the crowd could get behind us from ball one. The boys really appreciate the noise because they get carried along with it, and I would like our crowds to give the Aussies stick from ball one. It was hilarious when they [Australia] copped all that stuff about the ghost.

"I was in Sydney playing grade cricket when England last played in Australia and they copped it all day every day, on chat shows, adverts, on radio and in the newspapers. England got absolutely crucified and we should do the same to them during their whole stay here to see how they cope. I will not start sledging - who am I to start abusing those blokes after everything they have achieved? We are here to play hard cricket, but we will not be bullied."

Gillespie gave Australia a slight injury scare yesterday when he missed nets training with a sore right knee. Australian officials were confident, though, that he will be around to trouble England at Lord's.

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