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Focus on first Tour clash

The scene is set for an explosive "bat off" to this summer's Ashes series when Australia and England clash for the first time in a Twenty20 international at the Rose Bowl.

The scene is set for an explosive "bat off" to this summer's Ashes series when Australia and England clash for the first time in a Twenty20 international at the Rose Bowl.

Both teams primed themselves for their first meeting of a long and what promises to be an intriguing campaign in superb style by dominating their warm-up matches at the weekend.

Australia cruised to a 95-run victory against Leicestershire in its one-day match at the Grace Park Road ground on Saturday, while England crushed Shane Warne's Hampshire by 155 runs at the Rose Bowl, where tonight's match will be held.

Matthew Hayden was in a bruising mood as he thumped 107 off 96 balls while Andy Symonds (92 not out off 59 balls) and Damien Martyn (85 off 103) enjoyed plenty of time in the middle.

Symonds was equally as brutal as his fellow Queenslander, thrashing 10 boundaries and three sixes, including five boundaries off the one over from medium pacer David Masters.

He batted at No.5 on Saturday but may again be promoted to No.3 ahead of skipper Ricky Ponting tonight, as was the case in Australia's Twenty20 win over New Zealand in February.

While Michael Vaughan's men were sluggish with the bat in making 238, they steamrolled through Hampshire for just 85, with Darren Gough taking a hat-trick.

Tonight's match may be meaningless as far as having any bearing on the Ashes, but neither side wants to give up early bragging rights.

"It's going to be great to finally get out on the park against those guys for the first time this [northern] summer," Martyn said.

"It'll be good for the sides to test each other out. There is always pride at stake."

England will hope "six maniacs" Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff can provide the batting fireworks needed to unsettle Australia.

Both possess the crowd-pleasing ability to clear the ropes regularly; Pietersen struck 15 sixes in his six innings against South Africa earlier this year, while Flintoff averages better than one six on each visit to the crease in his 80-match one-day career.

The pair has been billed as potentially the most explosive partnership seen on England shores since Ian Botham and Viv Richards teamed at Somerset in the 1980s.

But allrounder Flintoff has vowed not to turn the clash into a private slogging match.

"I'm not going to get caught up in that one, and against bowlers of Australia's class we probably won't get the chance," he said.

Flintoff cleared the ropes seven times in one innings against the West Indies at Lord's in the NatWest Series last year, while Pietersen thumped six big ones in one knock against South Africa.

"It would be nice if we got the chance to bat together for a few overs so we could push a few singles and crack on, but I'm not going to get caught in the trap of trying to out-hit him," Flintoff said.

"All I can do is to play the way I normally play and, basically, hit it as I see it - I don't want to put any undue pressure on myself by trying to do anything different."

The jury is still out on cricket's new three-hour sprint, described as "rubbish" by West Indian great Michael Holding but seen by others as a tool in spicing up the sport.

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