Sydney: Australian coach Darren Lehmann says he is excited by the prospect of facing England for the Ashes again next year and played down the second-division county opposition dished up for warm-up games.
The England and Wales Cricket Board on Monday announced the schedule for the 2015 Ashes against their old enemy with tour matches for Australia against Kent and Essex before the first Test, and then Derby and Northants during the five-Test series.
Three of those sides are second division county teams, while Northants are currently last in division one. Lehmann dismissed the calibre of the opposition as England look to reclaim the Ashes after a 5-0 whitewash in Australia during the 2013/14 series.
"(Kent and Essex) are quality sides and like last time (2013 Ashes in Britain) they'll probably drag a few players from other counties in to play," he told reporters.
"We really enjoy playing against the counties. It's a great lead-in for us. A bit more relaxed as you`d imagine but we've got to achieve some goals in those tour games as we did last time." Ahead of the last Ashes series in Australia, England complained about the quality of a NSW XI team they were to face, with the ECB urging a better calibre of opposition.
That prompted Cricket Australia to step in and strengthen the side with quality players from around the country. Australia have a two-Test series against the West Indies before heading to England and Lehmann said this would be ideal preparation. "We've got a tour game in West Indies, the two Test matches there, a 10-day lead in England and then another two tour games," he said.
"So there`s plenty of time for us to get acclimatised. Plenty of time to get used to the Dukes balls and pitches in England and also bowlers to be up and ready to go." Australia will play five Tests starting on July 8 next year -- in Cardiff, Lord`s, Edgbaston, Trent Bridge and The Oval as Australia aim for their first Ashes series victory in Britain since 2001.
Lehmann said there would be changes this year in England after the experience of Australia's disappointing tour in 2013. "They know their conditions well and we certainly learnt from our last experiences there and we have to change a few things," he said of their troubled 2013 tour when coach Mickey Arthur was sacked just weeks ahead of the opening Test.
"We played well on the back-end of the Ashes series last time in England and we've got to continue that on in the first Test and start the series well."