It is so simple but it’s that tradition of the Ashes and every time we face each other, no matter what format, those emotions and that history is everywhere.
You can feel the tension in the build-up because you know what it means to the nation. No-one wants to take a backward step. That will be the case once again when the two sides meet at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 in exactly 30 days from now.
I went to Australia to play club cricket as a youngster in 1996 and learnt a lot in a cut-throat environment. I went back in 2001 to play for Richmond, where I won the Ryder Medal, and whoever you became friends with - even with the lovely couple, Greg and Robyn, whom I lived with in Melbourne - there was constant banter about England’s poor record. It felt like it was all anyone ever wanted to talk about!
My first taste of watching Australia live was when I was brought in to the third Test at Perth that year as cover for John Crawley who had a hip injury.
Brett Lee was bowling at the speed of light and they looked a real ruthless bunch. It was having an effect on the dressing room and no-one was getting stuck into them. It was like England were beaten before they went out there.
Australia had physicality with the mind-set that they were going to bully you into submission. And invariably they did. It wasn’t only England that suffered and Australia earned that reputation.
Shane Warne was an entertainer, who would mesmerise batsmen. People don’t understand how good and how imposing Matthew Hayden was.
My hero was Steve Waugh but you could literally go through the 2005 team and just say ‘wow’. From the likes of Jason Gillespie, Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn, they’re all legends.
In 2005 we won the Ashes back for the first time since 1987 and the reaction, with thousands packed into Trafalgar Square, really brought home what the rivalry means.
I was involved in the squad but was always released before matches so I was watching on the tv and being swept up by it like the rest of the country.
We lost the first Test at Lord’s and, as we were preparing for the Edgbaston Test, Michael Vaughan said ‘Guys, Shane Warne is going to take wickets but if he can go for four an over rather than two and a half then we’ll put a much bigger dent in their attack’.
It was a real shift and the response from the guys, Marcus Trescothick and Freddie Flintoff in particular, was magnificent.
I was brought in for the final Test when Simon Jones was injured and I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous. Even when I was next to go into bat, I had to sit in the changing room because I couldn’t watch the match live.
Kevin Pietersen was smashing it everywhere but I just felt so far off the pace. Everyone had played four Test matches up to the game at the Oval but the intensity took me aback and I just had to get through it.
I played a very small part as we drew to win the series and I was delighted to be part of the celebrations.
The man who had the real impact on England was Freddie Flintoff. He was the one person who had something different that the Aussies had no answer to and we hadn’t had a cricketer like that since Ian Botham in the 1981 Ashes.
Being whitewashed 5-0 in 2006-07 in Australia was one of the lowest points in my career. We were annihilated by an Australia side that was hungry to humiliate us and the whole country was baying for blood.
Losing the second Test match in Adelaide was key. Shane Warne was outstanding and they also had it reverse swinging. If we’d got out of that game only 1-0 down going into the third Test match, anything could have happened but they could really turn it on.
Nobody can ever take away that I scored a double ton against Australia against one of the best bowling attacks that’s played in Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Brett Lee and Stuart Clark. I’ve still got the bat.
In that series every single time an Australian hit a four, and it happened constantly, you’d see Matthew Hayden playing a big, swooshing drive and ‘Tonk a Pom’ would come up on the big screen.
The media were on our backs and the Herald Sun even printed boarding passes for every single England player. I was tempted to cut mine out and use it!
It was non-stop. Even going out to restaurants with your wife, you could sense people having jibes at you all the time and it wasn’t a very nice environment to be in.
We lost the first few games of the tri-series that followed, with New Zealand involved, and when we played Australia on Australia Day in Adelaide in a day-night game, the match was over before they had even turned the lights on. You do not get lower than that in cricket.
But we bounced back to win the series and scoring 120 at the MCG when we got that victory is one of the knocks I’m most proud of.
The same could be said of Cardiff in 2009. We held on for a draw and I was involved in batting it out. It was only 70-odd runs in the first game but Australia really looked as though they were going to walk it so to get a draw and then go on to win the series 2-1, you know you’ve had a say in the outcome.
The next series in Australia, in 2010/11, was the ideal scenario for my retirement. Our goal was to win there, especially after 2007, and it was an incredible effort from players and backroom staff to achieve that.
There are so many amazing memories and the hardest part of being retired is watching the build-up to an Ashes series and just wanting to be involved. 2015 © ICC Development (International) Limited