We’ve suffered the endless hype, the “mind games” and the tiresome Convicts v Mother Country undercurrent. Finally, later this week, two sides will walk onto the Gabba to contest the First Test in the Ashes series.

As a community service, Crikey Sport cuts through all the hot air to explain who will be there and why:

The starters

Matthew Hayden: was undismissable during Australia’s 2002/3 Ashes triumph, but let’s not talk about the past. Hayden is no longer invincible, but on Australian pitches he will come very close.

Justin Langer: it’s a legal requirement in any article about Langer to mention his expertise in martial arts, but given the frequency with which he was knocked out by cricket balls last year I’m starting to look for proof. Turns 36 tomorrow. Is good at martial arts.

Ricky Ponting: one of the best batsmen in the world, but can he lead? Having borne the humiliation of The Loss, we will soon discover if he has borne it like Allan Border in 1989 or Kim Hughes in 1984. Watch him. Everyone else is.

Damien Martyn: by unspoken agreement, no one speaks about Damien Martyn except with a question mark at the end. Should he be in the team at all? Is he really one of The Greats? What do you mean he averages 47 in Tests? You say he was one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year in 2002? Hmm. Does he really have to wear that soul patch?

The bridesmaids

Phil Jaques: one of several players cursed to be very good in a time of greatness. Jaques will continue to amass runs at a ridiculous rate for NSW and pray nightly that either Hayden or Langer sits down to a dodgy prawn dinner.

Simon Katich: will pray nightly that both Hayden and Langer sit down to dodgy prawn dinners. Out of favour and unlikely to come back in this summer.

Mark Cosgrove: looks like Darren Lehmann. Bats like Lehmann. Like Lehmann, fancies a Chiko Roll like nobody’s business, but has worked hard to break into the side and will be the first called on if Ponting or Martyn are unavailable.

Brad Hodge: dropped from the squad shortly after scoring 200+ last year, Hodge has been out of fashion since, but belting a ton last week against Ponting’s Tasmania with selector Merv Hughes watching can’t have harmed.

Tomorrow: Part two  The Middle Order