Australia's cricket team captain Clarke holds a replica Ashes urn with England's team captain Cook in Brisbane
By Nick Mulvenney
BRISBANE (Reuters) - Skipper Alastair Cook accepts England will probably need to raise their game a notch or two to win a fourth straight Ashes series but almost scoffed at suggestions the tourists were running scared on Wednesday.
Despite the first Ashes series of the year having concluded so recently, the war of words before the second five-match encounter has been as intense as ever and Australia's David Warner said this week that he detected fear in the tourists.
England have good reason to feel confident having dominated the home Ashes series 3-0 and Cook said his experienced side were taking all the pre-match hype in their stride.
"We certainly don't fear anyone, that's quite clear by the way we go about our business," he told reporters at the Gabba, where the first test gets underway on Thursday.
"We're a very competitive side and there's no reason to fear any side out there. We don't really concentrate on what people say about us, it's about how we play in that first hour tomorrow.
"There's been a lot of words said, but when it comes to 10 o'clock tomorrow morning, that's all irrelevant."
England's one injury concern before the first test is the strained calf of wicketkeeper Matt Prior but Cook sounded reasonably confident that stand-in Jonny Bairstow would not be required.
"He's (Prior) got the last part of his fitness to go now, yesterday he trained really well and came through all that we asked of him," he said.
"With leg injuries, it's usually about how you pull up the next day after a rigorous session. We'll know pretty soon."
Vice captain Prior, with his leg heavily strapped but clearly mobile, remained on the Gabba pitch training long after most of his team mates had packed up on Wednesday.
Prior and Cook were key members of the England line-up that contributed a torrent of runs three years ago when England won the Ashes in Australia for the first time in 24 years.
Cook alone contributed a remarkable 766 runs at an average of 128 but was less spectacular in the first Ashes series of this year as England's top order rarely caught fire on the slow pitches back home.
"That's an area where we know we have to get better, we were 30 for three several times in that series and I was part of that," he said.
"I'm happy with the way I've played in these warm-up games. Who knows what's going to happen, but I feel in a good place right now."
The feeling that England won on home soil with something to spare is one of the reasons for their confidence coming into this series and Cook suggested Australian conditions might suit their vaunted batsmen better.
"We know how important first innings runs are in Australia, if you want to set the game up, you have to score big," he said.
"The wickets here are slightly easier to score runs on than in England, it's the job of the batsmen to set the game up."
Cook's brilliant 235 not out at the Gabba in 2010 only contributed to a draw for the visitors as Australia maintained their record of not having lost to England at the ground since 1986.
Australia consider the Gabba their test match fortress and England can expect a less than welcoming reception from the Queensland public on Thursday.
That will be especially the case for paceman Stuart Broad, whose refusal to walk at Trent Bridge in the opening test of the first series infuriated many in Australia.
Cook, though, was confident the barracking would only spur on his team mate.
"He's a very combative character, he's an in-your-face kind of cricketer, I like that about him," Cook said.
"Every time you give him a challenge... he's stood up and delivered. He's done that a number of times for England, a magic spell of bowling.
"He's got the ability to change games. He looks in fine fettle with the ball and he's raring to go." (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John O'Brien)