Jonny Bairstow gives his Ashes rundown: Crowds of 40,000 at the Gabba... it's going to be like we're in the football World Cup!
- The opening Test of the Ashes series kicks-off at the Gabba on Wednesday
- Jonny Bairstow spoke with Sportsmail to give his rundown ahead of the first Test
- He said Australia will face a different version of him to the one four years ago
- And is hopeful Ben Stokes will be able to play a part in the series Down Under
Not long left to go now. The Ashes series is on the lips of every cricket fan and is being looked upon as one of the most fascinating tours in years.
Will Ben Stokes return, Australia's bizarre team selection, Joe Root's first as captain and who will be the star of the series are all talking points that are adding to the already bubbling anticipation.
England wicketkeeper-batsmen Jonny Bairstow talks to Sportsmail to give his Ashes rundown ahead of the opening Test at the Gabba.
Big in Brisbane
It's all very real now we've got to Brisbane - to be greeted by a bit of rain! I did the media on arrival on Saturday and there were lots of Aussie TV crews at the airport.
We've gone under the radar to an extent so far, just going about our business, and have been happy to let Australia do most of the talking. I think our group would prefer to concentrate on actions rather than words. But the excitement is building now.
And with that, of course, comes some nerves. But that's good. We're talking about 40,000 people on the first day of an Ashes series in Australia. This is a huge event, as big as cricket gets. This is like a football World Cup, really. Those nerves will fuel our excitement. We have all been on a journey together building up to this moment. The guys are ready to step up.????
It is all sinking in now England have landed and we're here in Brisbane ahead of the opener
Hopes for Stokes
One of our players still missing, of course, is Ben Stokes but I am hoping the issues around him are resolved sooner rather than later and he can get out at some point. We don't know what's happening and it's out of our hands but it would be good to see him. It would be great for the series too.
The issue is out of the players' hands but it will great for us and series if Ben Stokes returns
A different player
A lot has happened to me since I was thrown into the last two Tests of the last Ashes tour four years ago, when I hadn't even had a full season of keeping at Yorkshire under my belt. Those games were a massive learning curve for me and I will never forget the atmosphere, as a young player then, in Melbourne and Sydney.
My core game is the same but I guess you could say Australia will be facing a different player, even to the one they saw in 2015. I'm a lot more experienced now and have a couple of good years under my belt. But that will count for little once we walk out at the Gabba. Everything goes out of the window when you start an Ashes series. It's about grabbing the moment.
Australia will be facing a different Bairstow this time round to the one they did four years ago
The joy of six
I'll be batting a place higher at six in the first Test and that's fine by me. I've said it before but I really am happy wherever I bat for England. When you think we have myself, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes in that lower middle order we still have plenty of power there. Woakesey made his Test debut at six, remember.
We may be missing Ben, but with Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan getting centuries in Townsville, there is a lot of strength in our batting line-up on top of the big two in Joe Root and Alastair Cook.
Our batting line-up is strong and Dawid Malan could be the man to step-up in Stokes' absence
Playing ourselves in
It's been a good start to this tour. We've not faced bowling anything like we will get at the Gabba on Thursday but for the guys to play at the WACA in Perth and the Adelaide Oval, which is something I haven't done before, can only stand us in good stead.
I've not had as much time in the middle as I'd like because other players have been scoring runs so that's a good thing! I sneaked in an extra little bat after the game finished in Townsville on Saturday - out in the middle against Jimmy Anderson, Jake Ball and the left-arm of George Garton, who has made a good impression here - so that was useful.
George Garton has impressed and has helped England's batsmen with their preparations
Keeping the faith
One thing I have done is get a lot of keeping under my belt. Adelaide was a strange one. The pink ball just felt so hard in my gloves. More so than at Edgbaston in the day-night Test last summer.
I spoke to Tim Paine, my opposite No in Brisbane this week, and he agreed it felt different. Whether it's the composition of the ball I don't know but it was very good to get those overs under my belt before the second Test is played under lights.
The most anxious moment for me so far came when I got hit on the knuckle of the middle finger of my left hand in Townsville. It's still a bit swollen but it's part and parcel of keeping wicket. I thought, 'That doesn't feel right', and I was worried about my tour. So I went off, which I haven't often done, and saw the doc because it was throbbing. Thankfully it was just bruising. A bit of strapping and off I went again. They're the tools of my trade and I have to protect them.
I was worried about my tour after hurting my hand in Townsville but that's just part and parcel
The best of enemies
I played with Mitchell Starc at Yorkshire five years ago and he is a really good bloke. He has obviously worked at his game and improved a heck of a lot since he played with us. We know he's a real competitor.
I enjoyed getting to know Peter Handscomb, too, when he was our overseas player at Headingley last summer. But friendships will be put on hold. One thing I would say is that when you know someone on the opposition well you quickly realise when they say something that isn't them. If I get sledged it will be like, 'Hang on a minute, I know you, that's not you talking.'
We know about Mitchell Starc from his Yorkshire days, but he has improved a lot and is a threat
We are determined to get out and see Australia and enjoy the country as much as we can. If you don't enjoy being in a place like this there's something wrong with you. And we are privileged to be able to experience things that would never happen if we didn't get to visit so many interesting countries.
Like in Townsville on Friday. There was a rodeo in town that a few of us went to and I enjoyed it so much I went back on Saturday. The object was the cowboys had to stay on a bull for eight seconds but not many of them managed it. The guys that were riding these huge bucking bulls were bonkers!
There was a cowboy from Brazil who got cleaned up, head-butted by a bull and knocked unconscious - yet an hour later he was back riding. Those guys are on a different level.
Mark Stoneman - or Rocky to us - reckoned we should get him in at short leg at the Gabba!
I also enjoyed staying up to watch the rugby on Saturday night. A really good win for the England boys.
Now it's up to us to beat another well-fancied Australian side.
We are determined to get out and see Australia and enjoy the country as much as we can
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