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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 March, 2005, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
Ponting wary of improved England
Michael Vaughan and Ricky Ponting
Anticipation is building ahead of England's bid to regain the Ashes

Skipper Ricky Ponting believes this year's Ashes series will be the closest since Australia's domination over England began way back in 1989.

"We've said that about the Ashes before and it hasn't been," Ponting said.

"But this England side have a different feel to them. They have a bit of a winning habit and winning culture which they haven't had for a while."

Australia, who are seeking their ninth successive Ashes triumph, this week completed a 2-0 win in New Zealand.

And Ponting's all-conquering team are showing no signs of decline depite their ageing squad.

Stephen Fleming
England are going to have to play extremely well
Stephen Fleming on the Ashes

But with 12 wins from their last 16 Test matches, England are closing the gap on the world's number one team.

Ponting added: "They're number two in the world now and have played excellent cricket of late, and I think both sides match up particularly well.

"Once we hit England we're very confident that if we've got everyone fit and we play somewhere near our best that we're going to be very competitive right through that series."

Australia's Ashes squad will be announced next week.

Ponting said his players will enjoy a well-earned break having been in action since October.

"We've pushed ourselves hard enough and maintained some really high standards that we set for ourselves," he said.

"It doesn't really matter what New Zealand have done, or how hard they've pushed us, the individual players in this side manage to lift themselves against anyone."

Defeated New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming said England would have to be at their very best to compete with Australia.

Brett Lee
Lee is unlikely to look for a short-term county contract

"England are going to have to play extremely well," said Fleming, who captained New Zealand to a 3-0 series defeat in England last summer.

"It's about playing the game under the least amount of pressure and you'll win it.

"England always play under a huge amount of pressure. Australia are used to dealing with it and they just roll on.

"If England start well, then they're in with a sniff.

"But if Australia start well and get them down, then all of a sudden you've got the press, the public and basically everyone who watches England cricket on your back."

Meanwhile, Brett Lee is unlikely to pursue a short-term stint in county cricket despite Cricket Australia leaving the door open to the possibility.

Lee, who has been on long-term 12th-man duties after losing his place to Michael Kasprowicz, has played next to no cricket in the past 12 months.

But Lee's manager Neil Maxwell said a county appearance was "unlikely at this stage".

Maxwell told reporters: "He's got pretty good fitness levels and Australia have got a training camp in May, so he'll maintain fitness."




WATCH AND LISTEN
Interview: Australia captain Ricky Ponting



SEE ALSO
Brett Lee warned off county duty
24 Jan 05 |  Counties


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