Tensions have ratcheted up to a point bordering dizziness. After a well deserved break spanning almost a week and half, Australia will host England at the WACA, Perth for the third Ashes test and anticipation is high in both camps and for good reason. In recent years, such encounters which threaten or seduce (depending on which camp the reader follows) to re-write history have been few and far between.
To state the obvious, both teams will be aiming for a win. But Australia can be pardoned if they settle for a draw as it would serve to be a damage limitation exercise. Why? Because their opponents, England, have been in fine form of late showing few signs of weaknesses. The visitors are 1-0 up in the five-match series after the resounding win at Adelaide in the second test and they stand a chance to retain the Ashes with a victory at Perth.
In the build up to the third test, Australia overhauled their side bringing in youngsters and first-timers while recalling a dropped veteran. Steven Smith, Phillip Hughes and Michael Beer made their way into the squad and Mitchell Johnson, who was dropped for the second test after a disappointing return of 0-170 at Brisbane, earned himself a recall after a tough week in the nets.
In his final press conference before the match, Australia captain Ricky Ponting was in complying mood, saying his team deserved the criticism that has come their way. Though they started the first test (Brisbane) brightly, with Peter Siddle's hat-trick tormenting the English batsmen, they allowed England to battle back in the second innings in which all three English batsmen (only three batted) bagged centuries, with Cook making a double ton. In the following match at Adelaide, Australia were blown away by an impressive English bowling attack, which handed them a defeat by an innings and 71 runs.
Ponting said, Whatever criticism has come my or the team's way in the last few weeks has been warranted, we haven't put results on the board. We haven't played a level of cricket which is going to have people writing great things about us.
It's been a bit different to most Ashes series, he went on. There's normally more focus on the England team when they arrive than on Australia but it seems to be different this time around, for what reason I'm not sure. But all that sort of stuff is good ammunition to make us want to play well and have some positive things written about us.
Ponting has had a torrid time having to make constant changes to his squad. Injuries to key players haven't helped either, with in-form Simon Katich ruled out for the series with an Achilles tendon injury. However, the skipper admitted that changes in a struggling team were inevitable.
Changes have been made and that generally happens when you're not playing well, he said. When you're winning you can cover for guys who are a bit out of touch but we've not played well enough to cover for those guys.
It's to be expected - that makes it a bit harder as a captain to be juggling things around and thinking about things in different ways but that's part and parcel of being a leader. You've got to find ways to do it and do it well, and hopefully I can do it this week.
Despite the changes though, Ponting has a tough decision to make regarding his team. The skipper is yet to announce his squad, a break-away from the usual practice where Australia name their squad one day before the match, preferring to have one last look at the pitch before deciding on his bowling line. He has to make the tough decision on whether to go with four pacemen and omit the specialist spinner, in this case, Michael Beer.
He said, It is still grassy out there. There is a lot to think about. With the fine leaf grass on the square now the ball tends to skip off rather than hold. Having looked at the wicket I think there will be a result here.
England are less cautious and they have a right to be as they have been formidable so far in the series. They announced their squad and have gone with Chris Tremlett to replace the injured Stuart Broad, who tore an abdominal muscle.
He had been vying for Broad's spot with Tim Bresnan, but his height gave him the edge with his 6ft 7in frame set to give England a lot of bounce in the hard WACA strip.
In his press conference, England skipper Andrew Strauss revealed that the English camp was in high spirits after the Adelaide win. Paceman James Anderson, who flew to Lancashire, England to attend the birth of his second child, added to squad's spirits after he brought back that slightly euphoric feeling with him.
However, Strauss had a warning for his bowlers as the pitch at WACA didn't seem bowler friendly. I don't think it's going to zip all over the place to be honest, he said.
The skipper also eased expectations of securing the urn at Perth and warned that such expectations could prove to be England's undoing.
I'm always aware if you start relaxing and think things are going well, this game has a way of coming back to bite you, he said. We have very much been emphasizing the need to keep our feet on the ground and get ready for hard work again.
Even though the Adelaide game was quite one-sided, the first Test in Brisbane was a very tightly-fought game and we expect more of that. We've got to be just as desperate as Australia because if we're not, we'll come unstuck. If Australia were wounded in Adelaide and have a point to prove, we've got to be ready to counter that.
It promises to be a spectacle. The lovers of the game all over will be watching it and maybe some less faithful followers as well. And for good reason - an Ashes test is as big as a World Cup final.