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Australia v England - 1st Test
Brisbane: 23-27 November, 2006
606 debate | TMS blog comment
Jonathan Agnew's verdict

Rocky Ponting and Andrew Flintoff
Captains Ponting and Flintoff get their hands on the urn
The countdown is over in Brisbane - England have named their team and it is Ashley Giles that has won the nod ahead of Monty Panesar in the starting XI.

After over a year of anticipation and speculation, England's defence of their Ashes urn gets underway in under an hour and all the pre-series hype will finally stop.

The first Ashes Test starts at midnight GMT and, with the excitement building, everyone with any connection to the England team has been asked for their views.

Tell us where you will be watching or listening, what your predictions are, and who you think should play, on 606.

One hour to go:
The news is in - Ashley Giles has won the nod ahead of Monty Panesar in the team to kick off England's defence of the Ashes.

The team line-up reads: Strauss, Cook, Bell, Pietersen, Collingwood, Flintoff, Jones, Giles, Harmison, Anderson, Hoggard.

In 30 minutes' time, the toss will be won, the majority of the crowd will have taken their seats in the Gabba, and fans across the world will know whether an evening cheering runs or wickets is ahead.

Now it is over to the 22 men at the Gabba.

1hr 30mins to go:
Just an hour remains until captains Flintoff and Ponting argue the toss, and BBC Five Live's Mark Pougatch is confident the Gabba remains a bat-first wicket.

"It's unthinkable that England won't bat if they win the toss. The Brisbane pitch looks rock hard, it's very bouncy, very quick - a little like the Oval - and it should lend itself to great cricket.

"England can't really contemplate losing here in the context of the series but, what we do know, is that the time for talking has come to an end and the actual cricket is finally upon us."

And the views from the 606 site:
"Up here in sunny Scotland we wish the England cricket team well. Hope the selectors are pro-active though and play Monty Panesar. Simon Jones and Michael Vaughan are going to be missed but i still think that England can pull it off." EDDIE40

"It's 01.20 in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and the pimms is on ice and we are all looking forward to ENGLAND carrying on from the last Ashes series." diamondchalkstar

"Its quite evident that the Australians are extremely angry over the last ashes and are going to defeat England without a spot of bother." samirdada

"For once I don't mind working late! Watching BBC website coverage from Moscow (unfortunately cricket's not that popular here, TV coverage will be limited). Counting down...Come on the boys!! Barmy army... LuluAitch

Two hours to go:
News agency AFP reports that over 40,000 Englishmen and women are travelling to Australia for the Ashes, with over 10,000 expected at the Gabba - capacity 41,000.

England's 'Barmy Army'
England's 'Barmy Army' could have a big role to play in Australia

"We don't mind having them here," a Brisbane cabbie told AFP. "They're the kind of pommie b*****ds who don't mind being called pommie b*****ds."

"It's all good natured and it really adds to the rivalry with the Aussies," said long-time Barmy Army member Craig Gill.

And their support will not be wasted on England captain Andrew Flintoff, who said: "I went out for dinner and had a walk around Brisbane with the family and the amount of people I bumped into from Preston or wherever has been amazing... it's almost like coming home.

"It's unbelievable, the fans have supported us now for a long time and they're very excited about this series, as are we."

The Aussie fans won't be going down without a fight, though, says 'Fantatics' (the Australian equivalent of the Barmy Army) member Colin Parker.

"Hopefully the whole crowd will get behind us and then we can put the Barmy Army in the shade," he said. "After all, it's our country."

2hr 30mins to go:
Our man in Brisbane Oliver Brett reports: "0730 local time (only two hours to go before the toss). I can barely type.

"From my 12th floor balcony, the six-lane highway carrying traffic from the nothern suburbs to the central business district looks suspiciously empty. I think there may be a few absentees at work today.

"Out to the north-east, a plane gets ready to touch down at the airport - quite possibly carrying the last of the Barmy Army infantry - and under the Storey Bridge the Brisbane River glistens.

"There's not a cloud in the sky, and the air is thick with the scent of late spring blossom and birdsong. Let the games commence!"

Three hours to go:
A last word from Mark Butcher, who says 'Ashes celebrity' will take some getting used to by the England players.

He told BBC Sport: "I don't know how the new boys will deal with Australian crowds. It's a unique experience but once you get into the series and into the games it becomes less of a factor.

Andred Flintoff
Flintoff may find himself yearning for the quiet of the warm-up games

"One thing that may come as a surprise to the guys who haven't toured over there before, is that everybody in the whole country knows who you are and that you're there to play in the Ashes. You can't escape.

"Everybody follows the cricket and has something to say about it.

"It can be a bit unsettling as the tour goes on, but it's something that you get used to. I used to have a bit of banter with them. The Aussies like it if you have a little go back so that's how I dealt with it."

3hr 30mins to go:
A quick glance at the weather forecast in Brisbane, and there are few surprises.

With the sun already up and beaming across the Gabba, temperatures are expected to reach 30 degress with a cloud barely in sight and humidity, which will be even higher in the cauldron of the ground, set to reach 95%.

Cast your minds back to four years ago and similar conditions in Brisbane, when then-England captain Nasser Hussain shocked even his own team when electing to bowl in the opening Test of the 2002 Ashes series.

Surely this will be a bat-first wicket and we can expect Flintoff to do the right thing should he win the toss?

By the way, for those that are interested, the moon is apparently "waxing crescent". So there you go.

Four hours to go:
The view from the 606 site:
"We can't fail to win...particularly when the Aussies continue to persist with George Bush as their captain." scmis

"Having read between the lines in Paul Collingwood's column, it seems Giles is a certainty to start in place of Monty. Also, Anderson looks like he's in. I think Fletcher & Fred have made a mistake in not sticking with Monty, but we'll see. Also, anyone else worried that not a single English batsman has played a test match in Australia? (Get Ramps) C'mon England! Sam_I_Am

"Does anyone know why they dropped Shaun Tait?? I watched Stuart Clark for Middlesex a couple of years ago and he was average at best. At least Tait has pace. Still can't complain - all the better for England!" gids123

"The sun is shining here in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Fingers crossed it will be shining on our boys at the Gabba in a few hours time. With cricket almost inexistent in Argentina, the BBC website will be home for the next forty four days. Let the battle commence..." jackoinbuenosaires

"My son is 5 days old and I am on night duty with him for the next week........get in!" Abunai

4hr 30mins to go:
The debate over England's spin options continues on BBC Five Live, with Andrew Caddick opting for Ashley Giles and Geoff Boycott preferring Monty Panesar.

Ashley Giles and Monty Panesar
Giles or Panesar: The debate goes on

Caddick, who bowled the first ball after Nasser Hussain infamously put Australia into bat the last time England toured down under, told Five Live: "I would personally go for Giles.

"He has the experience and a little bit of that 'nous' that is important. His ability with the bat also goes a long way."

However, Boycott believes Panesar's greater attacking threat should earn the Northamptonshire spinner the nod.

"We have got to be positive and show them that we are here to retain the Ashes. Picking Panesar would go a long way to doing that," he said.

Presenter Mark Saggers adds: "The feeling is that Giles is in. But if you have a match-winner, surely you play him?

"Four years ago Nasser opted to field in the first Test of the Ashes series and the Australians trounced us. Will another defensive move work the same way?"

Five hours to go:
More from an optimistic Mark Butcher, who believes how England's top-order fare will determine the side's success in Australia.

The former England batsman told BBC Sport: "Alastair Cook has had an incredible start to his career and looks every inch an international-class player, while Andrew Strauss is very experienced and the pitches should suit him. I expect runs from them.

I think we'll see a real ding-dong contest and it's going to be 2-2

Mark Butcher

"I think England are going to need good starts from the top three in order to allow the likes of Flintoff and Pietersen to express themselves against the older ball later on.

"I think we'll see a real ding-dong contest and it's going to be 2-2."

However, those sentiments are not echoed by all of you on our 606 site. Here is a selection of the latest thoughts:

"It was Simon Jones' jaffers that took out the top order last time, so i think we will struggle. Groan!" the benster

"I'm afraid Flintoff is in the Botham category as a captain, whilst Strauss is out of sorts. Vaughan was a Brearley who could also bat. Unless England take the first couple of sessions at the Gabba tonight they won't even get a draw against a side older but fitter than they are." godisguilty

"As patriotic as I am, I think that regardless of who we pick, without Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick and Simon Jones - and with Flintoff not fully fit - we're going to struggle against a resurgent Aussie side." flamespittingcobra

5hr 30mins to go:
It's good to see Australia captain Ricky Ponting is completely over last summer's Ashes loss - and England's use of substitute fielders.

Quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, he says: "It wasn't so much who they had fielding for them last time, it was the amount of time they were spending on the field that concerned me the most - why their bowlers had to be going off as often as they did. I don't care who they had fielding.

"It's going to happen again at some stage in this series where both teams will have substitutes on and off the ground.

"As long as it's controlled and monitored I've got no problem with it."

Six hours to go:
Clark keeps Johnson out - According to the Brisbane Courier Mail, Stuart Clark has been given the nod ahead of Mitchell Johnson for the third seamer spot alongside Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee.

Stuart Clark
Clark has been tipped to fill Australia's fourth bowling spot

Clark, man of the series against South Africa in March, edges out local favourite Johnson as the Aussies attempt to "sentence England to death by suffocation at the Gabba", says the newspaper.

After all the talk of negative England tactics and the selections of Geraint Jones and Ashley Giles, would this selection signify an equally conservative approach from the hosts? The steady, reliable Clark over the explosive, pacey Johnson?

Or are the Australians targeting England's notorious fallibility against McGrath with the veteran's natural successor?

Let us know your views on the 606 site.

6hr 30mins to go:
The view from the 606 site:
"I think the big differences in this series to the last are:
1 It is played in Australia
2 McGrath will, probably, be fit for all five tests
3 Hussey (in form) replaces Katich (out of form)
4 No Trescothick, Vaughan, or Simon Jones
These all work in Australia's favour and so this series will be much tougher for England than the previous one. Hopefully we are up to it." danandi 1

"Hoooorah c'mon England!!! Will be listening from sunny Chile, the test starts here at 9pm so I have a few hours to warm up before cheering on the victors!!!" AngloChileno

"As an Aussie, I just can't believe that England look like they'll plump for Ashley Giles and Geraint Jones. Picking Jones is just so short-sighted - so what if he makes 30 more runs than Read? That'll be soon forgotten when he drops Ponting with a sitter and our skipper goes on to make 150!" orthopaedic_shoes

"As the seconds count down even I, a true football fan, can't wait until that first ball is sent down...I predict that England will win the series 2-1 with Steve Harmison and Monty Panesar the stars, and Monty applauded with outstanding performances in the field. OK! The latter seems unlikely, but a great series beckons. C'mon boys, do us proud!!!" Redrazors

"Only a month until I fly out and I am expecting there to be far greater England support than the Aussies are expecting - do they really think all those tickets sold on the first day went to them?" Wesley7770

"Be quiet silly Australians. Your comments are as fascinating as Glenn McGrath predicting yet another Australian whitewash. His and your comments will again come back to haunt you. So shhhh, save yourself the embarrassment." Ramzone

And one rather stirring rendition of 'Jerusalem' from gloriousglosters. That's the spirit lads.

Seven hours to go:
Aussie comic Adam Hills on Five Live:
"We can't compete with the Barmy Army. I was in Newcastle doing a gig on the day of the Rugby World Cup final.

Ricky Ponting
Ricky Ponting will find the Gabba a busier place on Thursday morning
"I went to a local Australian bar but it was full of English people and the Barmy Army chanting was fantastic, singing songs like 'You all live in a convict colony' and 'We get three dollars to the pound'.

"When you're heckling the exchange rate, that is inventive!

"There was another song about getting our rubbish stars off your flag and of course God Save Your Queen - which is your guys reminding our guys where they came from.

"At the end of the gig the Geordies asked me to sing Waltzing Matilda. They joined in and sang it with more passion than any Australian audience I've ever seen."

The view from the 606 site:
"I predict 2-2 with England winning the first Test. I also think it will be an unexpected player who makes the difference, maybe Jimmy Anderson." Carlnotout

"It's just four weeks until I fly out to Oz to catch the Boxing Day test, and I can't wait. It's so important that we get off to a good start that I won't be getting any sleep tonight. My only fear is that the Melbourne test could be a dead rubber - with England already 3-0 up!" Peckham Dan

7hrs 30mins to go:
Australians are waking up (if they're very early risers) to Thursday's headlines ahead of the first Test:

Warne 'lost the Ashes' - Brisbane Courier-Mail: Geraint Jones' father responds to Shane Warne's claim that the wicket-keeper could lose England the Ashes by recalling the last series. "While Shane Warne was bagging the England wicket-keeper, I suppose the awestruck press didn't think of asking him about failing to catch Kevin Pietersen in the fifth Test," said Jones Sr.

Waiting over, war of raw humanity is resumed - Sydney Morning Herald: "In the end, an Ashes series is not about supporters, or reporters, or commentators.... it's about raw, naked, exposed humanity," writes Peter Roebuck.

Eight hours to go:
Former England opener Mark Butcher tells BBC Sport:
"The hype and the pressure on the players is going to be enormous but they are a very confident bunch and I think that they will be able to retain the Ashes.

I'd pick Monty Panesar ahead of Ashley Giles

Darren Gough on Five Live
"Winning the first Test isn't the be-all and end-all. They lost the first Test in England in 2005 and still came back to win. What is important is that they show positive and attacking instincts. It was that approach which won the series last time.

"I'm pretty sure there are a lot of nerves around because this is a special series. Last time the expectation on the players was low because we hadn't won the Ashes for so long. This time it's very, very different and obviously the atmosphere at Brisbane will be electric.

"I'm sure there'll be a few sleepless nights."

And more from Darren Gough on Five Live: "I'd pick Monty Panesar ahead of Ashley Giles. Panesar had a brilliant season and he turns the ball well. Australia will probably come after him but that could work to England's advantage.

"Ashley Giles is a good cricketer but he's been out for a year. Panesar deserves that spot in the first Test but that will be Duncan Fletcher's decision."

Darren Gough
Darren Gough - a vodka man
8hrs 30mins to go:
Former England (and Strictly Come Dancing) star Darren Gough on Five Live:
"I'm just glad it's all starting at last. The build-up has been ridiculous after England won last time out.

"I can't see there's any way it's going to live up to the last series. That was once in a generation stuff. Every Test except the first one was to-ing and fro-ing.

"We don't know what's going to happen in this one. Australia are favourites, which is strange after England won last time around, but it's so hard to predict - that's what make it so exciting."

And on the art of preparation for a big match: "You've got two types of cricketers - old school and new school.

"The likes of Harmison, Pietersen and Flintoff will have had a few beers the night before the first day while some of the others will have been in their hotel rooms playing computer games, listening to their ipods or watching DVDs.

"I was old school. I'd have three or four vodkas - too many calories in beer. At least you knew you'd be able to get to sleep."

Nine hours to go:
The view from the 606 site:
"Just getting the overnight bus up to Brissy - should be there at 0700 - hope my mate's flight gets in from Fiji on time as he has the tickets! Come on England!" Justin_paolo

"Gonna be burning the midnight oil tonight then off to Melbourne for the Boxing Day test in a few weeks' time. Having mates in Melbourne sure helps with tickets! Spilla

"I was lucky enough to get some tickets to last years Ashes series. As an Aussie I have been waiting for this since then. The plan is to sleep from about 7pm through till 11pm; watch until tea and a bit more sleep before getting up for work." Just for the Ashes

"I'll be watching from my small 5" B/W in my office in Sydney. The boss is fully aware of this and I am sure he will be passing by for updates. Can't wait. Yeh - And?

10 hours to go:
The first Ashes battle has already taken place down under and the lucky omens are with England. A Twenty20 cricket match between the Aussie Fanatics and the Barmy Army was won by the tourists.

Nick Bryant, reporting from Brisbane, tells the BBC's One O'Clock News: "The pre-match hype is something to behold. Australia can hardly wait and there is a real feel of a gladiatorial showdown."

Australia's Channel Nine is stoking things: "We've warmed up the beer and hidden the sunscreen, we've bought you some soap and we've been waiting all year.

"So come on, show us what you got. The Poms are coming - Australia v England, it's definitely on."

11 hours to go:
Tom Hill (23), student, tells Five Live:
"I don't have Sky so will be trying to watch the match on my mobile phone while listening to the radio.

"I find it highly inconvenient that these great rivals live on opposite sides of the globe but I'm a student so I go to bed at funny times anyway and will sleep until lunchtime. I'm planning to stay up throughout the Test - as long as we are winning."

Paul Barnes (Aussie):
"I'm looking forward to it like nothing else. We've been waiting for this since last September. We're all very confident and the team have shown by winning the ICC Trophy that they're on song.

"I think it could be a very one-sided affair. England fans only need to worry about losing sleep for a couple of nights because it'll be all over in three days."

Fans watch England batsman Ian Bell in the nets
Fans watch England batsman Bell in the nets at the Gabba
11hrs 45mins to go:
Professor Jim Horne, president of the Sleep Research Centre, on Five Live:
"You can't go too many nights with very little sleep. The first night will not be too bad. It will get really tough about five or six in the morning when it will hit you.

"The best way to overcome that is by having a couple of cups of coffee. The caffeine will take 20 minutes to take effect so try and grab a short nap while that is kicking in.

"If you're going to work on Thursday morning, try and have a nap before you leave and then when you get in between seven and midnight. You need to get some sleep in the bank and stay off the alcohol."

12 hours to go:
The latest views on 606 are pretty cagey about the outcome of the Ashes. Kolo T says: "I don't think England will win, but then last year everybody feared the worst and we won!"

The Voice of Reality ponders: "It's difficult to guess what will happen. The last Ashes was won mentally so it will probably be the same again."

But it seems England fans are breathing a collective sigh of relief because Ian Bell should be fit for the first Test. Gdury speaks for most, saying: "I have a really good feeling for Ian Bell. I'm expecting him to show the Aussies his class."

12hrs 30mins to go:
Hollywood actor Hugh Jackman tells BBC Radio Five Live: "I've a feeling that the Ashes are going to be won back by the Aussies. I think it will be a good series. My prediction is 3-1 to Australia.

"I just think there's a couple of injuries on the English side and even though the Australian team is getting a little, I suppose a little older now, I think the pitches are going to suit us a lot better."

13 hours to go:
Geoff Boycott tells BBC Radio Five Live he has "concerns" about the chances of Andrew Flintoff's team.

"I think deep down the players, although most of them have made runs and had a decent bowl in the practice matches, must have some nagging doubts somewhere," Boycott says.

We can't do anything - we just have to sit back and hope England reproduce the form they showed last year

Former England captain Alec Stewart

"Ian Bell for me is a big plus, he has had a wonderful year and is very positive. Monty Panesar is a big plus, he's a good bowler and so is Jimmy Anderson, he has a natural gift. He just needs to play and he has been used so infrequently.

"But it's the big players, those who you are looking to for huge match winning performances - the leadership performances - that is where the question marks are."

14 hours to go:
England captain Michael Vaughan, who is in Australia with the team, says: "I've been with the squad and there is a quiet air of confidence. I'd say we're as well prepared as we can possibly be. The real guess is how they react to the pressure on the first morning of an Ashes Test match."

15 hours to go:
Former England captain Alec Stewart tells BBC One's Breakfast programme: "The atmosphere will be huge. I spoke to Ian Bell on the way in this morning and he's excited. For the rest of us it will be even worse as we can't do anything - we just have to sit back and hope England reproduce the form they showed last year.

"The atmosphere at Lord's was big last year but this will be even bigger. Australia are desperate to regain the Ashes.

"But England will retain my Ashes - that is my prediction."

UK morning newspapers:
"Let the battle begin," roars the Daily Express, while The Guardian headline says: "Two nations laid bare by ancient battle." The Daily Telegraph pictures captain Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff holding the Ashes urn which England captured in the summer of 2005 and urges: "Don't let go, Freddie." Meanwhile readers of the Daily Star are told: "We're Freddie to win it again."

And in the Western Mail, England pace bowler Simon Jones, reveals he will not be watching the action later on television.

"I won't be watching the first Test. It would be pretty difficult because I want to be there so much.

"I had visions of playing this winter and going through the same emotions I did last summer.

"You think, 'What if we can do that out there.' That would be even better - beating them in their own back yard.

"But you kind of get used to not being around the squad and concentrating on what you've got to do to get fit."





Bell hands England fitness boost
22 Nov 06 |  The Ashes
The Ashes start here
22 Nov 06 |  The Ashes


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