Nasser Hussain will encourage his young and inexperienced side to become inspired rather than intimidated by the strength of their opposition when the Ashes series begins at the Gabba tonight.

Only four players in the tourists' likely starting line-up - Hussain, Mark Butcher, John Crawley and Alec Stewart - can accurately inform the remainder of the squad about the demands and intensity involved in an Ashes tour Down Under.

They will tell their younger teammates of the challenges ahead in attempting to overcome Steve Waugh's team, the intimidation they will encounter at the crease from Australia's formidable attack and close-in fielders, and the strengths of the great players within the opposition.

Yet rather than focus on the negative of seven successive Ashes series defeats home and away, Hussain will instead concentrate on lifting his side's spirits by recounting some of England's better moments since their last triumph in 1986-7.

His own double century at Edgbaston against Australia in 1997, the victory in Melbourne four years ago, not to mention Butcher's incredible innings at Headingley will all be mentioned as a source of inspiration.

So will the incredible records of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, who together have been the players largely responsible for Australia's dominance of the Ashes and worldwide cricket over the past five years.

Warne has 118 wickets from just 23 Ashes Tests while McGrath's tally is 92 from only 17 Tests, and they will form the main threat to England's hopes of claiming a shock success both at the Gabba and the remainder of the series, yet may also provide the inspiration.

''They've got great records against everyone,'' admitted Hussain. ''I think Warne just took his wickets at 12 apiece in Sharjah and that doesn't mean he has the voodoo over Pakistan, it just means he's a great bowler, the pair of them are great bowlers.

''We're turning up on Thursday not to play an average side, not to try and get a hundred against Joe Bloggs from Derby or Kent, but to get a hundred or 200 against Warne and McGrath because if you do that there's no better feeling.

''When you walk off at the Gabba and you've got a hundred against the best bowlers that have ever bowled you know you can play the game and that's what we've got to do.''

Should that happen, it would put England into a position where they could finally put pressure on Australia and perhaps cause jitters which even they have suffered from on occasions - notably at Melbourne four years ago when the tourists completed a nail-biting 12-run success.

''Everyone will be talking about mental strength and things like that, but generally what wins cricket games is basic cricket and putting pressure on the opposition,'' said Hussain.

''I've been watching a few videos of New Zealand's series out here and they put pressure on Australia going into that final Test match and you play differently when you're under pressure whatever side you're on.

''Too often Australia have dictated terms by putting pressure on the opposition, but if you stay in cricket matches going into the final days and the opposition can lose the game, they play differently.

''When you have no fear of losing the game then you can show all your skills and it's a very easy game, but the moment you put losing into the equation it becomes a whole different ball game and that's what we've got to do to Australia in every Test match.

''It's easier said than done but you have to put plans in operation, that's what we've done against other sides and that's what we intend doing now - we don't just go out there on Thursday morning and think about things there and then.''

Unsurprisingly the local media have focused on Australia's fabled mental strength, which they believe has been the difference between their domination of the Ashes.

It is a theory which Hussain believes is nonsense, insisting: ''I've played against Australia and I don't believe our failings are down to a mental thing - it's down to basic cricket skills.''

England have two major decisions to make - whether to gamble on the fitness of Andrew Flintoff instead of recalling fellow all-rounder Craig White, and whether to stay with the experience of Crawley ahead of the in-form but inexperienced Robert Key.

Alex Tudor, who has flown in from the Academy in Adelaide to provide cover as Darren Gough travelled in the opposite direction amid fears his Ashes campaign may be over before it has started, has already been discounted from their deliberations while Steve Harmison is struggling with shin splints.

Hussain appeared resigned to being without Gough for the whole series, adding: ''It sounds blas but I'm not worried about the Ashes as far as Darren goes now.

''I'm just worried about getting Darren back. I'd like to see him back on the cricket field, whether it's the Ashes or not, because it's his career.''

Hussain's counterpart Steve Waugh marks 15 years of Ashes cricket this winter by admitting his fear at experiencing another series defeat to England before he leaves the international stage.

The hard-nosed Australian captain is the only player in the series to have played during England's last triumph in 1986-7, and has been anxious ever since not to suffer disappointment again.

He has played a major role in ensuring that has not happened, firstly as an outstanding batsman and latterly as an inspirational captain who recently led Australia in all but one of their record-breaking 16 successive Test victories.

But as he approaches possibly his final Ashes series aged 37, Waugh admits he is not naive enough to think Australia's dominance will last forever, and is bracing himself for an England backlash despite senior players Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne predicting a 5-0 whitewash.

''We're confident, that's part of our game but we're not over-confident,'' insisted Waugh, who topped the Test averages with 321 runs in four matches during the last Ashes series just over a year ago.

''I know England have got some very good players, and we've played against quite a few of them, and there are also some younger players who we haven't played much against and no-one will be underestimating those guys.

''If the guys in our changing room want to talk about winning 5-0 that's fine if they can back that up, but I'm certainly not going to be talking about a whitewash because that's a long way off - I'm concentrating more on winning the first Test.

''I keep playing the game because I think I can improve,'' said Waugh.

'I still think my best Test innings is in front of me and I'm hoping that's going to come some time in this series.

''Personally that's what I'm after and as a team I want us to keep our standards up and play every Test match the same, play to win and try to win as quickly as we can.''