London - Former England captain David Gower wound up the tension ahead of the forthcoming Ashes by labelling Australia as a country with no culture, accusing their cricketers of an "animal mentality" and warning of "feral" crowds Down Under.
Gower's remarks came ahead of the first of several meetings between the old rivals this English season, starting with Saturday's ICC Champions Trophy clash at Edgbaston, that include five Tests, two Twenty20 fixtures and five more one-dayers.
Then just a few months later they renew cricket's oldest Test rivalry with a series in Australia from November to February.
Asked if England's cricket relationship with Australia represented a clash of cultures, Gower told the Radio Times magazine: "I'm tempted to say, how can you have a clash of cultures when you're playing against a country with no culture? That would almost be sledging."
"Sledging" - verbally trying to intimidate opponents - is something where Australia have led the rest of the world, with former Australia captain Stephen Waugh elevating it to the status of "mental disintegration".
But Gower, who played 117 Tests from 1978 to 1992 and captained England to victory in the 1985 Ashes series, said that Australian crowds, as well as players, were adept at dishing out verbal abuse.
"If you're on the boundary you have to be very, very thick-skinned, because the Aussie crowd will try you with absolutely anything," he said.
"The trouble is, if they've had 10 cans of lager, their ability to come up with something akin to Oscar Wilde diminishes. A lot of it therefore tends to be very stereotypical. But it's feral; if they sense weakness, they'll come at you.
"It's the same with sledging on the field. There's a certain animal mentality, and if they sense a bit of weakness, they'll try it on more.
"The great thing is just to smile, because the smile completely confuses them. But the best way to keep an Australian bowler quiet is simply to make runs. If you're 120 not out, they tend not to say much," added Gower, who scored nine Test hundreds against Australia -- only the great Jack Hobbs, with 12, made more for England.
When the first Ashes Test starts at Nottingham's Trent Bridge ground in July, England will be bidding for a third successive Test series win over Australia - something they last achieved in the 1950s.
And Gower said Australia's chances of stopping the rot had been diminished by the international retirements of star batsmen Ricky Ponting, now playing English county cricket for Surrey, and Mike Hussey.
"My glass is more than half full this year. Australia have lost the Ponting-Hussey axis that was vital to them," said Gower, who added much would depend on the batting form of Michael Clarke, the Australia captain.
"Michael Clarke is a super player, but so much rests on his shoulders. We've got every right to be optimistic, but no right to be overconfident."