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Ashes series to pit mate against mate

Strong links between Australia and England to be put aside when the arch rivals enter the field

David Warner has already set the tone for another fierce Magellan Ashes series, but a handful of friendships mean key figures from both camps may cross some battle lines this summer.

Cricket's oldest and most monumental rivalry has often bubbled with bad blood.

Michael Clarke's infamous "broken f***ing arm" sledge was a clear signal of intent four years ago, while Warner used the words "hatred" and "war" last month and suggested the hosts adopt a similarly combative approach.

There will be banter and barbs, Tests will inevitably become tense. There will also be clear bonds between Australia and England, a sense of familiarity among some frenemies.

The county circuit continues to break down international borders.

Johnson's 37 Ashes wickets in 2013-14

Peter Handscomb is a stronger supporter of Yorkshire teammate Gary Ballance than many members of England's camp. Dawid Malan has already caught up with Adam Voges, the Middlesex captain who helped put him on track to play international cricket.

Similar partnerships have been shared in the past but it's hard to imagine an Ashes series when there has been so many coaches and players from both sides with strong links to the opposition.

The Indian Premier League has provided another outlet for unlikely allies; Steve Smith provided batting tips to Ben Stokes during their time together at Pune earlier this year.

England coach Trevor Bayliss knew about Smith's potential before most Australians, having promoted him to first drop at NSW and asked him to lead the Sydney Sixers at age 22.

David Saker will be the hosts' bowling coach but regards James Anderson and Stuart Broad as lifelong friends, a by-product of their time working together for England.

Saker caught up with Anderson, Broad and Alastair Cook earlier this month, when they were all in Adelaide for a tour game.

"It was good. We just had a few beers and talked about what you normally talk about - family, what's happening in their lives. Not too much cricket," Saker told AAP.

"I don't think we'll catch up that much throughout the series ... our boys will rip me to pieces if I socialise with them too much.

"Those two (Anderson and Broad) did a lot for me and my career."

Ballance is one of few members of the touring party to have played a Test in Australia but the batsman is set to be overlooked for this week's opening clash.

He is a much-maligned figure among English pundits and fans, attracting the sort of scorn that Shaun Marsh does in Australia.

"He started off the county season going hundred, hundred, double-hundred," Handscomb told AAP last month, recalling the captain's knocks from Ballance that led to his most recent Test call-up.

"I couldn't believe how quickly the media – and it seems like the English selectors – get off him.

"He comes in for a couple of Tests, might fail, then all of a sudden he's gone again. You need to give him a chance because he's a good batter.

"We've kept in touch a little. We'll obviously catch up for a coffee at some point. He's a good lad, I'm looking forward to seeing him."

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Handscomb will of course be putting his friendship with Ballance on hold should the two clash during the five-Test series.

"It's not really awkward ... you might have some mates playing for the opposition but when you're on the field there are no mates," he said.

"Once the game or day is done you go back to being normal people."

For Voges, whose mentorship was singled out for praise by Malan after the English batsman made his debut earlier this year, there is no sense of divided loyalties.

"I may fire a quick email off to Boof (Australia coach Darren Lehmann), saying this is what I see. I'm sure my observations won't be any different to his," Voges told AAP, when asked if anybody has contacted him for Malan intel.

The West Australian, who retired last year with a batting average of 61.87 after 20 Tests, has also passed on some pointers to Malan.

"I caught up with him when they played the first tour game against WA. We didn't talk a lot about cricket, it was more to say g'day," Voges said of the left-hander, who has excelled throughout England's tour games.

"I've spoken to him a little bit about local conditions and what to expect but he fully knows what is coming."


2017-18 International Fixtures:

Magellan Ashes Series

First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets

Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets

Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets

Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets

Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets

Gillette ODI Series v England

First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets

Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets

Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets

Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets

Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF

Prime Minister's XI

PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets

Gillette T20 INTL Series

First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets

Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets

Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets

Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 13

Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16

Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18

Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21