We'll have first-morning nerves
It's time to get down to business. We've been in Australia a month now and we've enjoyed an excellent preparation period. But that's done now. All anyone wants to do is get on with the cricket.
These are moments you dream about. It is always a privilege to represent your country and travel the world playing Test cricket, but there is nothing more exciting than the first morning of an Ashes series. It really is as good as it gets.
There will be some very nervous cricketers taking the field in Brisbane on Thursday. It doesn't matter if it is your tenth game or your 100th, the first Test of an Ashes series is as special as any you can imagine and every person taking the field will be struggling to conceal the nerves.
There is a fantastic atmosphere at the Gabba. I've played two Tests there and endured a tough first day in both of them. When Australia are on top, the noise there is quite something and, after Peter Siddle took his hat-trick in 2010, there was an unbelievable sound in the ground.
There has been a lot of talk about the importance of the starts we've had in Brisbane in the past. Of course, you want to start well, but people make too much of these things, really. In 2010, we had a poor first day and conceded more than 200 in the first innings, but we still went on to win the series. This team has shown, not least in India a year or so ago, that we bounce back well and that we are at our best with our backs against the wall.
Our preparation has been good. While there has been a fair bit of rain around, we've still had the time for four of the top five to register centuries and all the bowlers to get some overs in their legs. It's not ideal that our vice-captain, Matt Prior, is still something of an injury doubt, but it might prove helpful that Jonny Bairstow has enjoyed some time in the middle. If he ends up coming into the side halfway through the series, he will be well prepared.
The only other selection issue concerns the final fast-bowling spot. I've really no idea which way the selectors will go, but I can guarantee that whoever plays will have the full backing of the rest of the team. As a batsman, I find dealing with the extra bounce of tall fast bowlers the most difficult proposition in cricket, so to have three giants vying for the last spot in our side bodes very well for us.
It was a good idea to start our tour in Perth. The nets there are very fast and it gave everyone an opportunity to get to grips with the conditions can be like in Australia. The pitches will generally offer more pace and bounce and, in some ways, the conditions require more adaptation than any other tour.
The core principles don't change. You still have to score large first-innings totals, you still have to leave the ball well. So it's not as if you make any technical changes. It's just you have to be aware that there is a bit more bounce and pace. To be honest, once you are well set, there's nowhere better to bat than Australia. I consider it the No. 1 tour in world cricket: great facilities, fantastic weather, wonderful cities and countryside and tough, competitive cricket. It's such a cricket-loving nation that we tend to be recognised when we're out more often than we are at home, but the people are so friendly that it has never been a problem.
Our record over the last few years has instilled a confidence in the squad, but there is no lack of respect for the Australian team. If we are to win this series, it is essential our top three or four get through the first 20 overs with the new ball. It is by far the toughest time to bat in Australia but, if you can get through it, life does become a bit more straightforward.
Australia's record at home is excellent and their record in Brisbane is daunting. We are expecting them to come at us hard in the first Test.
We all know there has been some talk in the papers over here about us, but we really don't take any notice. You expect these things ahead of an Ashes series and one of the fundamental policies of our team is that we don't allow talk about such things to enter the dressing room. The news about our diet plans clearly surprised one or two, but we're always looking to improve and searching for 1% here and there, and good nutrition can play a part in that. I'd be amazed if the Australia squad don't a similar approach.
This will be a particularly special game for Kevin Pietersen. Playing 100 Tests is an incredible achievement and testament to his quality, his fitness and his determination. He has already enjoyed a wonderful career and he remains a quality player and arguably the only guy on either side who can turn the game on its head in a few hours. This milestone will mean a lot to him and he deserves to be proud of it.
We know Australia are going to come at us hard in the next few days. We know they are an improving side and we are hugely respectful of their excellent record at the Gabba. But we know what to expect, we're prepared and we are confident that we can overcome. We are ready.
A fixture in England's middle order for almost a decade, Ian Bell has played in four Ashes-winning sides