The Gabba is a cauldron. It is a ferocious place. At all the other grounds in Australia, the England fans are vocal. But not at the Gabba. There are only a few dotted around so it is hard for them to become a collective force.

The Gabba is unique. The dressing rooms are subterranean. You cannot see the ground, you can only hear the crowd. It is like a dungeon. You walk down a narrow tunnel on to the ground, an airless bowl which holds the noise of the Aussie supporters.

There is a viewing area for the ­players, like a greenhouse tacked on to the dressing room. It adds to the feeling of being on show.

Nothing can prepare you for it. Playing in Townsville gave England exposure to conditions in Queensland but it will be like going from the Conference to the Premier League.

And Australia’s success in Brisbane is daunting. The theory goes that all they have to do is turn up and win and straight away the opposition are under enormous pressure in a series.

But that gives England an opportunity. If they play well and escape with a draw, or even win, Australian confidence will evaporate. Already, former Australian players are criticising their selection. If they struggle in Brisbane, the pressure will build. We saw in 2010-11 what can happen then.

England have to see this week as an opportunity to win. I do not see these two sides playing out any draws. Last year Pakistan, in the day-night Test in Brisbane, scored 450 in the second innings. It was the same Australia attack, bar Jackson Bird for Pat Cummins. England’s batting unit is better, so if Pakistan can get 450, so can we.

Winning an Ashes series takes hard work, guts and strength of character. The pitch seems to shrink from 22 yards to 18. Everything feels quicker because of the pressure. The players who succeed are those who focus on the present. The ones that get ahead of themselves come a cropper.

An Ashes series is a marathon. You will be tested mentally, physically and emotionally but England must concentrate on the first week. Forget winning the series. The team who play the moment will come out on top.

It is OK to be excited by the atmosphere and the build-up but park it to one side when you arrive at the Gabba. Do not try to be too cool. Be levelled and balanced. Alastair Cook, James Anderson and Stuart Broad must lead the less experienced players.

When batting, know exactly what you are trying to achieve as an individual, what your game plans are to every bowler. When bowling, every ball matters. Do not worry about a big drive from David Warner, just concentrate on what you are doing. Do that, and the end product looks after itself. When you start fretting about what could happen. you take yourself out of the here and now. That is dangerous.

There will be nerves on day one. There should be. Those who know that nerves are just a way for the body to tell them it is time to perform will be fine.

Not many, including me, give England much chance of winning this series. Former England players writing them off is great motivation. Prove us wrong. I will be delighted if I have egg on my face. There will not be a happier Englishman if we win the Ashes.

For that to happen, the top seven have to produce the majority of the runs. Mitchell Starc blows away tail-enders, so the batsmen have to make big hundreds. They know that already. But the beauty of Test cricket, and what makes it so hard, is you can talk all you like about scoring a ton but you cannot concentrate too much on the end product. You have to focus on each ball.

One of the challenges for England will be getting rid of Australia’s tail. Starc, Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon can all hold a bat. England have to guard against switching off if they take early wickets. The ghost of Brad Haddin should haunt them from last time.

Australia have surprised us with selection. But Matthew Wade was not a batsman England would have feared, so I can understand dropping him.

Anderson and Broad would have looked at Matt Renshaw and been happy to bowl at him with the new ball. I have not seen a great deal of Cameron Bancroft but Australia have picked a guy at the top of his game in terms of form and confidence. You could argue Australia have been smart there.

But the Tim Paine selection is puzzling. He looked like he was retiring and has not scored a first-class hundred since 2006. England have to make sure he has a bad week. It shows Australia have no trust in Peter Nevill and Wade, so it will be difficult to go back to them.

There is no better place in the world to bat than Australia. You know the conditions, can trust the bounce and what the ball will do. Do not think you have to go out and be macho and smack the ball to the boundary from the start. Play sensibly. If you take bowlers into their second or third spells, you will be seeing the ball so well you will be able to score either side of the wicket. Scoring quickly will come naturally so do not go chasing it.

All of England’s senior core have to perform. If that happens, James Vince, Dawid Malan and Mark Stoneman will be carried along.

I arrived in Australia in 2002 as a nobody. I left with a reputation. I say to Stoneman, Vince and Malan: do the same. It is your chance to etch your name in Ashes history.

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