A replica of Ashes Urn is seen during a headshots session. (Getty Images)
Brisbane: The Ashes contest must be imminent. The local newspaper featured a front-page photo of Kevin Pietersen on Monday, describing the England batsman as the "walking ego of world cricket."
That was published only hours after the national broadcaster aired the latest in a long line of Australian TV retrospectives of the Bodyline series, the divisive 1932-33 Ashes episode that soured relations between the two countries.
Alastair Cook's England squad has arrived in Brisbane to finalise preparations for the first Test starting Thursday, with the first three days of the match already sold out.
England are chasing a fourth consecutive series win - an achievement that has eluded them since the 1800s. And that stat more than anything has piqued the interest of Australians from all walks of life. There's nothing quite as bad in a sporting context for most Aussies as too-frequent losses to the old enemy.
"There's always a lot of bluff and bluster in the lead-up to an Ashes series," former Australia captain Ian Chappell wrote in a column, adding that there were plenty of ifs and buts and not a lot of certainties. "On this occasion Australia have more ifs, while England are superior in the number of proven performers."
Veteran cricket radio broadcaster Jim Maxwell took to twitter to voice his reservations about the "provocative tabloid front page" in Brisbane's The Courier-Mail on Monday, saying the Australian "belligerence, get the enemy, might be misplaced, backfire."
Australian crowds don't need any encouragement when it comes to cheering against The Poms, as the English are widely known in this federation of former British colonies.
England's pace spearhead Jimmy Anderson is all too aware that there's a lot more to an Ashes tour of Australia than what happens on the field. "Coming out here ... it's always a tough place to be," Anderson said after arriving in Brisbane. "You're not just playing against the 11 blokes on the field, you're playing against the whole country that are backing them. It's a real challenge for us."
Most conjecture about the England selection has been about the third seamer to back up Anderson and Stuart Broad, who will be the main target for boisterous crowds.
Anderson said all the seamers had improved as the tour has progressed, with draws against a Western Australia XI in Perth and Australia A in Hobart followed by a seven-wicket win over a Cricket Australia Invitational XI in Sydney on the weekend.
"We've all started to find some rhythm. Getting to a good place," he said. "What we're excited by is the fact we didn't play our best in England against Australia but we still ended up winning 3-0.
"We're very hopeful that we're going to play better cricket than we did in England - we know we're going to have to play better cricket. Certainly every time we've won, the next series has been even tougher."
England ended Australia's eight series of domination around the turn of the 21st century with a victory at home in 2005, but was then swept 5-0 on the following tour Down Under.
But the English have won twice at home since then, including the series just completed in August, and had a 3-1 victory in Australia in 2010/11 - their first on Australian soil in 24 years. This series is being held 12 months ahead of schedule due to Australia's co-hosting of the 2015 World Cup, leaving little time for the English to celebrate their third consecutive series win.
Now Cook's team is on the brink of its best run in 120 years, since England won seven consecutive series from 1884 until 1890. And with eight wins and only two losses in the last 15 Ashes Tests, and with a stable squad, England will start as favorites.
"It is crucial to get off to a good start," Anderson said of the anticipated steamy opening match in the Queensland state capital. "It is going to be a long six weeks for both teams, so it is very important to get that first blow in."
The Australians have had a disjointed build-up to the series, with the limited-overs squad away in India until earlier this month and the likes of opener David Warner and skipper Michael Clarke playing in the domestic competition.
But Clarke is confident his squad is stronger than it was leading into the last Ashes series, when Warner was suspended after a nightclub altercation and Mickey Arthur was fired as coach. Darren Lehmann, who came in on short notice to guide the team in England, is confident his squad is more settled and things will be different in Australia.
"I think we can win the Ashes," Lehmann was quoted as saying. "From my point of view, it's about giving the side confidence. We chopped and changed in England but this time, when we find the right top seven, they will get a good run at it. I think we can do it, but it comes down to how you handle the big moments on the tough days."