The 2013 Ashes Part II will soon be under way and, after a summer when England again rubbed Aussie noses in it by winning the series 3-0, the most eagerly anticipated fixture in cricket has moved Down Under for the next instalment.
It is rare for Ashes' series to be played back-to-back in the same calendar year and the lack of a break - with only three months between the end of the Fifth Test in August and the start of the First Test later this month - has meant there has been little time for rising temperatures to cool or lingering resentment to dissipate. Even before the first ball is bowled there has been no shortage of players and officials from both sides lining up to launch verbal broadsides at the opposition. Even if you don't like cricket, this should be a series worth following just for the almost guaranteed daily doses of rancour, bile and abuse.
The summer series in England got off to a flying start when Australia's David Warner downed copious amounts of Jaeger bombs and vodka Red Bull in a Walkabout bar and decided to punch England's Joe Root in the face. Warner apparently had taken exception to Root taking off the green and gold wig he was wearing and turning it into a beard, for reasons that weren't entirely clear. More embarrassingly for Warner was the fact that baby-faced Root, who would struggle to get served cigarettes without ID, barely flinched as the blow glanced off his chin. Warner was booed by the English crowds throughout the rest of the summer but took it all in good humour, acknowledging the irony when he was caught out by Root in one match. "Yeah, hooked another one to Rooty," he smiled sheepishly.
Disappointingly in a series replete with controversial incidents, there were little reports of on-field sledging, one of cricket's dark arts but as pivotal to the sport as batting or bowling. In a game that can last five days, mental strength is as vital an attribute as ability and there has been a plethora of wicketkeepers, bowlers and other close-in fielders over the years willing to chirp repeatedly in an ear to test resolve and concentration.
Australia, though, are not the team they once were, shorn of the sort of boisterous but talented figures who could yak away as effortlessly as they could bat or bowl. The great England teams over the years could take it and give a bit back, too. "Mate, you can't f****** bat," bellowed the marvellously moustached Merv Hughes one time to England batsman Robin Smith. After Smith had then belted the next delivery to the boundary he replied. "Merv, we make a fine pair. I can't f**king bat and you can't f**king bowl." Hughes would have better luck with Pakistan's Javed Miandad who would regret calling the bowler "a fat bus conductor". Hughes took his wicket before running past him gleefully shouting, "Tickets please!"
This summer it took until the Fifth Test for there to be any real on-field needle and even then it was hardly repartee of a wit to rival Oscar Wilde, with Australia captain Michael Clarke reportedly telling England's Kevin Pietersen that "nobody likes you". Given one of the nicknames given to the ever-modest Pietersen is FIGJAM (F*** I'm good, just ask me) then Clarke's comments were hardly revelatory or likely to have offended anyone, least of all Pietersen himself.
It will be different Down Under, however. Australian pride has been stung following a fourth Ashes defeat in five, and in front of their own fans the onus will be on Clarke, Warner et al to perform a lot better, using methods fair or foul. Already there have been some tasty sound bites dished out. Stuart Broad's refusal to walk in the First Test despite clearly edging a catch behind has been neither forgotten nor forgiven by the Australians.
Their coach Darren Lehmann went on the radio to accuse Broad of "blatant cheating" before adding that he hoped Broad "goes home and cries". And there was little sign of sporting integrity when Lehmann then encouraged home fans to "give it to him [Broad] right from the word go". Broad responded by insisting he had no time for "trash talking" and was instantly dismissive of Lehmann's mind games. "It means they are in your bubble and they are not enjoying playing against you," he added. What would Vincent Lunny make of it all?
Throw in the raft of former players also sticking their oar in - Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne and Andrew Flintoff have all had something to say at various points - and it's all bubbling under nicely. Regardless of who comes out on top this could well be an Ashes series to remember.