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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 August, 2004, 06:56 GMT 07:56 UK
England impress Ponting
Ricky Ponting
I've been in England for four or five weeks and think I've been asked this question about a thousand times
Ricky Ponting
Australian captain Ricky Ponting is expecting a tough battle from England in next summer's Ashes showdown.

England are on a high after a clean sweep of seven home Tests against New Zealand and West Indies.

Ponting, who will be leading Australia in an Ashes series for the first time, said: "England are obviously playing very good cricket at the moment.

"Some of the individuals have really put their hands up and grown in stature over the last 12-18 months."

He added: "A lot can happen in the next 12 months. But if we can stay injury free, we'll be taking a very strong squad there.

"It should be a very good series and one all the players will be looking forward to."

England have not won the Ashes since Mike Gatting's side triumphed Down Under 17 years ago.

Steve Waugh
Steve Waugh held onto the Ashes for Australia two winters ago

The last series in 2002-03 ended in a 4-1 victory for Australia, although England had the satisfaction of handing out Australia's first home Test defeat for four years by winning the final game in Sydney by 225 runs.

England have played down talk about possible success next summer, preerring to concentrate instead on their winter assignment in South Africa.

Captain Michael Vaughan said his team were still "far from the finished article."

And coach Duncan Fletcher, when asked about the Ashes, replied: "That's a long way down the line and there's a lot of cricket to be played before then."

But following last weekend's triumph against West Indies, he said: "The really positive thing about all this is that in this side at the Oval there was only one guy over 30, so there's a lot of people in that side that can play together for the next four or five years as a unit and get better and better."

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