Australia, the new Australia, yesterday declared that they had cast off the past and were striding boldly into the future. That was the essence of their vice-captain's message as the tourists gathered at English cricket's newest Test ground.
"I think our squad is in a really good position at the moment," said Michael Clarke. "I don't think it matters what players you've got if you're at the top of your game. We certainly feel we're at the top of our game and can beat any team in any conditions. I think what we learned in South Africa earlier this year was that when we are at the top of our game, when we are confident and playing good cricket, we're as good as any team I have been part of for Australia."
That raised some eyebrows because everywhere that Australia's players go they are being asked how they will cope without the great players who have retired in the last two years. They know, they must know, that it will not be easy and that England are taking succour from the fact that there will be a host of new names unaccustomed to English conditions.
Clarke, however, said of the side he would lead should Ricky Ponting be indisposed for any reason, one that no longer possesses the likes of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath: "I think we have our own identity, I think we proved that in South Africa. It has been two years since Warney and Glenn retired.
"It's great they're still spoken about because they will always be legends. But as a team we're continuing to gel. We performed well in South Africa, we have got to know each other very well, they're a great bunch of guys and we're looking forward to what's going to be a great Ashes tour."
Clarke had a quiet series by his own lights on his first tour of England in 2005 when he scored 335 runs. His top score of 91 at Edgbaston was ended famously by Stephen Harmison's slower ball and was one of the series' multitude of turning points.
Since then Clarke has reformed himself as a more restrained batsman, still capable of being hugely entertaining but prepared to stick as well as twist. In the return Ashes series of 2006-07 he made two important hundreds and averaged almost 80 as Australia won 5-0.
"I always say England's a hard team to play against but they're even harder in their own conditions," he said. "They're coming off some good cricket against the West Indies, they have got some confidence. I think everyone wants a very competitive Test series played in the right spirit.
"It's a tour you dream to be on as a kid, you want to play Test cricket for Australia, you want to play Test cricket against England. Ricky Ponting, who has played nearly 140 Tests and is an amazing player, is as excited as I have ever seen him in my career, I certainly look up to that. He's as keen as mustard and he's not on his own."Reuse content