London: It's England versus Australia after all and even if both teams say their upcoming five-match one-day series has nothing to do with the Ashes, it's bound to give some clues to how next year's Test battle might pan out.
International cricket's oldest rivals face off in the first ODI at Lord's on Friday, almost exactly a year ahead of the 2013 Ashes series in England.
England captain and batsman Alastair Cook said on Thursday that future games were "irrelevant" to this contest, but his in-form team will want to continue its winning limited-overs form and convert that into some kind of advantage over Australia ahead of the five-Test series next year.
England has won the last two Ashes series and its last six ODI series, but lost heavily to Australia in one-dayers in 2009 and 2011. England also could make a dramatic leap from fourth to first in the ODI rankings with a 5-0 series sweep over the Aussies, becoming the top-ranked Test and one-day team. But, as with the Ashes contest, England wasn't looking that far ahead.
"Let's not count our chickens just yet," Cook said. "You go into a series to try and win the series. That's going to be a tall order. All these rankings things, people like talking about them but as a side we've always just focused on what we have to do in the next game.
"Like always it's going to be a very competitive Australian side and we've got to try and match them."
Top-ranked Australia dominated the last limited-overs series between the teams, winning 6-1 at home a year ago after again losing the Ashes series. But England is a different, stronger proposition, having won all 11 of its ODIs in 2012, and shrugged off Kevin Pietersen's retirement from the shorter format to cruise past West Indies this month.
"They're playing some really good cricket and have had a lot of success in their own backyard so we know we're going to have to be at our best to beat them," Clarke said, accepting the five games also will be valuable experience for many of Australia's new tourists — especially quicks James Pattinson and Pat Cummins — even if winning back the Ashes wasn't yet the primary focus.
"It's all about the one-day series for me and for the Australian team," Clarke said at Lord's. "Obviously we've got a few guys who've never played international cricket in the U.K. so it's a good opportunity for those guys to see the conditions, but our focus is 100 percent on this one-day series."
Both teams could still strike important psychological blows, even if the players and the format will be different in 12 months' time when the Ashes begin next July at Nottingham's Trent Bridge.
"We'll certainly see how far we are along by the end of these 10 days," Cook said of England's recent one-day revival.
The seam attack, spearheaded by James Anderson and Stuart Broad, was the key factor in England's success and an important area for Australia to counter, Clarke said. Anderson, Broad, Steve Finn and Tim Bresnan may well be England's bowling lineup in the first Ashes Test next year.
"It's no coincidence that their attack plays a big part in their results. They know their conditions as well as any team, I guess," Clarke said. "That's probably why they've won their last six series. I think it's going to be a good test for our batters ... I guess we'll see in the next few weeks how we go when we're under pressure against a very good and confident one-day team."