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Ashes build-up begins here - Ponting

NatWest Series

Ricky Ponting

Ricky Ponting and Australia harbour longer term ambitions than winning the NatWest Series, which gets under way on Tuesday

Australia captain Ricky Ponting admits the Ashes is already preying on the minds of his players as they prepare to face England in the NatWest Series.

The Ashes get under way Down Under in November, with Australia keen to regain the urn they lost in England last summer.

The tourists meet Middlesex at Lord's in a second warm-up encounter today, following Thursday's one-day international win over Ireland, while England clash with Scotland in Edinburgh.

Ponting's thoughts, however, have begun to drift towards grander contests later this year.

"Whenever there is a big series coming up the build-up starts a fair way out - and for the Ashes it's already started," said Ponting.

"The Ashes is probably on all of our minds a little bit. It's exciting for the game - there's nothing bigger as far as I'm concerned than an Ashes series.

"When it's in Australia as well and we need to win it back, it adds a little more to it.

"I'm expecting the guys to be in exactly the same frame of mind as they were for the return bout last time.

"Pretty much from now until the Ashes are over and done with in the middle of January, everything we do will have some sort of focus on the Ashes series. There will be no excuses for us come late November."

First, England and Australia meet in a five-match NatWest Series, although Ponting revealed he is also laying the foundations for their defence of the World Cup in the sub-continent early next year.

"I'm happy with the way we've played over the last 12 months and we are building for the World Cup, which is only just around the corner," added Ponting, who was not part of the Australia World Twenty20 side beaten by England in last month's final in the Caribbean.

Tim Nielsen

Australia coach Tim Nielsen praised England's late progress, saying: "They are going really well"

The five-match NatWest Series begins at the Rose Bowl on Tuesday, but Ponting was quick to play down its importance in relation to the Ashes.

He added: "I don't think it will have much impact on the Ashes at all.

“There is a long way to go before the first Test match. [But] the guys will now want to push for a place in the Test team.

"There won't be much we don't know about England by the end of the summer.

"We already know each other pretty well. We've played a fair bit against each other and we're going to play a little bit more, but I like that.

"All Australian players love playing against England and I think we will see that over the next few weeks."

Australia coach Tim Nielsen admits they will face a different England following their World Twenty20 glory.

Nielsen said: “We would like to win the series 5-0, that’s what you aim for.

“The 20-over success was certainly a great result for England. But we were the two best sides in the World T20 competition.

“England have some new players now with the likes of Craig Kieswetter and they have Kevin Pietersen coming back into the side, who is obviously a tremendous player. Their bowling group is 12 months more advanced, just like ours. They are going really well.

“But this series of one-day internationals will have no bearing on the Ashes. We will have four or five changes from our one-day side to the Test squad and it is more than likely that England will as well.

“We will be aiming to win this series 5-0, I am not one to make massive predictions, but every series we go into, we look to win every game and this will be no different.

“England versus Australia is always a great contest. This one is a bit special in that we came over here for a stand-alone one-day series, normally it is on the back of an Ashes series. But we look forward to playing cricket over here because it is always fun.”

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