England host Australia in the first Ashes Test starting on Wednesday without any of the obvious benefits of home advantage in a new venue with a relaid outfield.
Cardiff was controversially awarded the first Test of the series with the traditional venues of Trent Bridge and Old Trafford missing out. It will be the first Test staged in Wales.
England’s Andrew Strauss, captaining for the first time in an Ashes series, said after his team’s warm-up match against Warwickshire that his players were “walking into the unknown”.
“We are not entirely sure what to expect. Both teams will go there not knowing what to expect and we can only judge when the Test is over,” he said. “In world cricket home advantage counts for a huge amount.”
The pitch is expected to be slow but offering no obvious advantages to the spinners and designed to last for the full five days.
It is bowling which holds the key in Cardiff and the remaining four Tests and both sides will be debating up to Wednesday morning just which combination gives the best prospect of 20 wickets in the match.
Australia’s hopes received a body blow on Monday when fast bowler Brett Lee was ruled out through injury.
Lee got the ball to reverse wickedly in the warm-up match against England Lions and was a certainty to return to the side after a successful ankle operation.
He would have formed a hostile pace trio with Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle with Stuart Clark and off-spinner Nathan Hauritz disputing the remaining spot. Australia could be tempted to play four pace bowlers also, adding Ben Hilfenhaus to the mix.
England have the option of playing two orthodox slow bowlers in off-spinner Graeme Swann and left-armer Monty Panesar or an extra paceman in Graham Onions.
Although there is nothing like the fever pitch of anticipation that built up before the unforgettable 2005 Ashes series, interest is high in England because both sides look evenly balanced.