For a fan, the build-up to a major sporting event is agony. There's unbearable tension during the long wait for: “On your marks, get set” and then the crack of the pistol. In the case of an Ashes series, it seems to be an interminable time between the first shots fired in the verbal war and the simple wave of the arm that precedes the umpire's one word command: “Play.”
But once the first ball is delivered every fan wants to know; “Who'll win the series?” For months I've been vacillating; first England and then Australia. Originally, I thought England had the better attack and would win. Then I saw them bat, with a dicey line-up, against Pakistan.
Soon after, I watched Mitchell Johnson's disastrous bowling against India and if he reproduces that form, Ricky Ponting can kiss the Ashes goodbye. Johnson can be such a devastating force that he could be the player of the series and bowl Australia to victory. But if he gets it wrong, then not only will Australia lose but Johnson could be omitted from the team before the series is half over.
That's just one reason why this series is hard to decipher. The unpredictable weather is also having an effect. The ball has been dominating the bat in the damp start to the season and if the trend continues it'll favour the English attack.
Jimmy Anderson is lethal in conditions that suit swing bowling and his regular breakthroughs with the new ball will enhance Graeme Swann's dipping, hard-spun off-breaks, exposing Australia's uncertainty in the middle-order.
The fact that so far, conditions have been bowler friendly, brings sharper focus on each team's foremost attacking batsman, Ponting and Kevin Pietersen. If either one rediscovers his form, then that side will shoot to favouritism.
Of the two, Ponting is technically better equipped to handle the moving ball. He also has the advantage of following the more reliable opening partnership in Shane Watson and Simon Katich. For England, if Alastair Cook struggles, not only will it add to Andrew Strauss' heavy mental load, it'll also increase Australia's chances of getting Pietersen in while the ball is new.
If either side makes a substantial total batting first, it'll place pressure on the opposition. But if the totals are more meagre, it'll make for hard-fought matches and potentially, a series to rival the titanic struggle in 2005.
I've finally settled on Australia as slight favourites, purely because their playing at home and the likelihood of at least one Ponting batting masterpiece.