The Ashes series begins on Thursday at the Gabba cricket ground in Brisbane, which is a sellout for at least the first three days and where England will begin its quest to win the old urn for the fourth consecutive time. Here's five things to know about the series:
Kevin Pietersen, who grew up in the Natal region of South Africa and left as a disgruntled teenage spin bowler, will make his 100th test appearance for England when he walks on to the Gabba. He knows the ground will be "buzzing" and he'll get a "clap from the crowd" - his code for a very rowdy reception.
England is the clear favorite heading into the 2013-14 Ashes series only a few months after completing a 3-0 home win over the Australians. This series has been brought forward by 12 months so it wouldn't interfere with preparations for the 2015 World Cup, which Australia is co-hosting with New Zealand.
The English have a settled squad and the only question marks are over the fitness of wicketkeeper Matt Prior, who injured his left calf muscle in a warm-up match; which seamer will support Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad in the pace attack; and who will open the batting with Alastair Cook. England has won eight and lost only two of the last 15 Ashes tests, quite a roll since a 5-0 defeat on the 2006-07 tour to Australia. Since ending Australia's eight-series domination with a come-from-behind win at home in 2005, England has clearly been the better team in the Ashes.
The 33-year-old Pietersen has scored 7,887 test runs and has become one of England's most accomplished - and controversial - batsmen. He was sidelined last year for sending negative messages about his teammates to their South African rivals but has been reintegrated - as the English media calls it - to the squad.
"Clearly there's been some bad stuff, which has been well documented. As a person you grow when you make mistakes," he said. "If I hadn't have learned, I wouldn't be sitting here on the eve of my 100th test match."
The venue at Woolloongabba, just south of the river from downtown Brisbane, has become a fortress for Australian cricket at the start of the southern summer. The Australians haven't lost a test at the Gabba in 25 years (since 1988 vs. the West Indies) and haven't lost to England at the ground since 1986.
Curator Kevin Mitchell Jr. said the old "green monster" of a wicket which once scared touring teams had settled down. It will offer pace and bounce early, in favor of the bowlers, but should reward batsmen who establish an innings.
In the last series here in 2010, England was bowled out for 260 and conceded a 221-run first innings lead after Australia replied, but recovered to post 517 for one in the second innings of the drawn first test. That set England on course for the series.
Rain or shine?
It can be hot, humid and raining all at the same time in subtropical Brisbane, where summer thunderstorms can come over quickly in the evenings. There were storms and large hail stones in parts of southeast Queensland early in the week but two sunny days ahead of the series-opening match have created perfect conditions. The temperature is forecast to reach 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) on Thursday, but the Bureau of Meteorology is tipping late storms from Friday through Monday.
Teams from Australia and England have been playing each other since the early 1860s but the first recognized test wasn't until 1877, which Australia won by 45 runs. The Ashes series wasn't established until the 1880s, after Australia won a test at The Oval in south London by seven runs after dismissing England for 69.
The match resulted in a mock obituary for English cricket that was published in The Sporting Times, which ultimately led to the legend of the Ashes. Ivo Bligh led England on the next tour to Australia to recover the Ashes, and it was during that series that - according to folklore - some women burnt a bail and put the remains into the little urn to present to the victors.
Australia has a lead in the bilateral series, winning 133 and losing 105 of the 331 tests played to date. There have been 93 draws.