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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 August 2006, 09:12 GMT 10:12 UK
Toughening up for the Ashes

By Phil Mercer
BBC News in Australia

Ricky Ponting
Skipper Ricky Ponting tests his strength by pushing a minibus
Australia's bid to win back the Ashes is being stepped up in the harsh outback of Queensland.

The squad is taking part in a four-day commando-style survival course ahead of the Test series against England, which begins in November.

Details of the boot camp have been closely guarded and the players themselves were told very little in advance, except to pack the bare essentials.

It is part of a plan devised by coach John Buchanan to make sure his players are as mentally and physically strong as they can be.

The team and their supporters are still smarting from last year's series defeat in England, which ended Australia's 16-year dominance of the Ashes contest.

"There will definitely be methods in John's madness," said former Australian seam bowler Dave Gilbert, now the head of New South Wales cricket.

"There'll be specific themes to the trip which will be about helping your team-mate and looking at ways at getting yourself out of difficult spots.

The bush can be extremely tough - it's unforgiving

Survival expert Bob Cooper
"It's probably what the team needs at this moment in time.

"They are very well paid. They basically lead an almost rock star existence, stay in five-star hotels and are feted around the world.

"To have it tough for a few days won't do them much harm at all," Gilbert added.

But others are worried that such hard physical testing in treacherous terrain could adversely affect Australia's chances.

"They certainly wouldn't want Brett Lee, Shane Warne or the skipper (Ricky Ponting) to get injured," said Matthew Phelps, a former batsman at first-class level.

"If anyone does get hurt they are going to miss one of the biggest Ashes series in years," he warned.

Fast bowler Brett Lee
There is no-one to fetch and carry for paceman Brett Lee
During his decade as a player Phelps and his team-mates were also sent into Australia's rugged interior.

"We did it a few times in the outback," he said.

"It was basically fitness and team building. We canoed for about 5 kilometres and ran for about 20 kilometres. It was good fun. But a few of the prima donnas didn't like it too much."

Amid the heat and dirt, the insects and snakes, Buchanan is hoping his players will find, rekindle, and deepen the all-for-one team spirit which has served them so well in the past.

Before the last two Ashes series the Australians visited battlefields in Turkey and France to learn about the soldiers who fought there and to enhance the unity of the squad.

But it will be very different this time and Bob Cooper, a veteran Australian survival instructor, is certain they will come to rely on each other.

"These guys will probably have to navigate to a water hole, collect the firewood, the water, try fishing and a small group will go foraging.

"These things have to be done in a timely manner before the sun goes down because then you can't see at all," Cooper told the BBC.

"The bush can be extremely tough. It's unforgiving.

"Some people are terrified of snakes, some people are frightened of spiders, being lost, being alone and a lot of people are afraid of not being in control of the situation."

Not being in control of the Ashes after next winter's series is, however, the biggest fear for Australia's supporters.

Australia boot camp photos
23 Aug 06 |  Cricket
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17 Aug 06 |  England
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