TREVOR HOHNS, the brains behind Australia's last Ashes triumph in Britain, can already sense the hunger to regain the urn next year building among officials around the country but he has warned of the potential banana peel presented by Sri Lanka.
The grand final has been lost and with it the chance to snatch the No.1 world ranking from South Africa but another key aim of the Argus review - regaining the urn next year - remains achievable. And though Mahela Jayawardene's side does not have the box office appeal of South Africa, the upcoming series is shaping as a crucial part of the build-up to the Ashes.
The Australians have already lost one series at home this summer, albeit to the best in the world, but another defeat would be demoralising before embarking on difficult overseas missions in India and Britain next year.
Hohns, Australia's chairman of selectors during the country's glory era in the late 1990s and early 2000s, knows the value of winning - no matter how meek the opposition.
Australia's Ashes failure in 2009 was preceded by a series defeat against the Proteas at home the summer before and though they avenged that loss in South Africa several months later, the aura of invincibility had been lost.
The humiliation of 2010-11 came hot on the heels of a bitterly disappointing campaign in India and a dismal failure at home against Sri Lanka in the limited-overs arena.
''It's all about the build-up and momentum. Winning momentum is terrific, it gives confidence to the players and all concerned, particularly the younger ones,'' said Hohns, who quit as a national selector in 2006.
''They're leading up to the Ashes but they can't focus on that yet. We've got an important series against Sri Lanka and then a very important one against India in India and then the Ashes.
''Everyone is talking about and projecting forward to the Ashes. I know most involved with cricket around the country desperately want to win those Ashes back.
''Hopefully, the lead-up with these two series will produce some good games and opportunities for blokes and get some winning momentum going. This series, in particular, is an important series for a few of them.''
Despite the heavy loss in Perth against South Africa, Hohns did not believe Australia were back at the drawing board.
''After the first two Tests, you wouldn't have thought there were too many weaknesses - it's just the last Test match that threw everything into disarray,'' Hohns said.
But he said there needed to be more batsmen to support in-form skipper Michael Clarke.
''A little bit more consistency would be good because there will come a time when Michael doesn't score all the runs. In time, players will start to come through and contribute a little bit more regularly,'' he said.
Former national fast bowling coach Craig McDermott said it was far too early to be focusing on the Ashes.
''I watched The Cricket Show last night and everybody had so much emphasis on the Ashes next year but we've got seven Test matches before then,'' he said. ''I sometimes think we get our focus too far ahead. I know you have to plan for the future but we've got a Test match starting Friday and I'm sure the players are focused on that.
''But I know there's a lot of hype around England and how well they're going in India and who's going to go to the Ashes for Australia but there's seven Test matches, a couple of one-day series and IPL [Indian Premier League] before then, so there's a lot of cricket and I have no doubt there'll be injuries amongst all that.
''There's a fair bit of work to be done to make sure we're well planned for the Ashes. We've got to get through seven or eight months before we get there.''
Few have given Sri Lanka a chance of winning a Test let alone the series. Such is the lack of confidence in the tourists, a 3-0 whitewash by Australia is the favourite scoreline with bookmakers.
But Hohns is expecting a bold showing from Sri Lanka, despite their No.6 ranking and failure to beat New Zealand at home last month.
''They haven't got a bad side. They're rebuilding. It'll be a decent series,'' Hohns said.
THE SRI LANKA SERIES - FIVE KEY QUESTIONS
1. Should Michael Clarke move into the top four?
A top four containing four openers seems strange, particularly when the best batsman in the team, if not the world, slots himself at No.5. Those arguing for Michael Clarke to bat at four believe that would help Australia cure their woes at the top order, but others say the captain’s excellent form at five is evidence he should not be moved. Clarke has a woeful record at four, averaging just 20.92 over 18 matches, but he is now at the peak of his powers and capable of improving on that. But will he back himself to do so?
2. What is Australia’s best attack?
Peter Siddle’s absence in Perth and Australia’s subsequent meltdown without him shows the Victorian is Michael Clarke’s most dependable quick, but the rest have fallen away. James Pattinson, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood are already in the casualty ward while Ben Hilfenhaus is back in the classroom rebuilding his action. Mitchell Johnson was frightening at times at the WACA Ground but needs to reproduce that form away from his adopted home, while Mitchell Starc remains a project player. Any further injuries and it could be time to blood another debutant.
3. Have Australia lost their ruthless streak?
Australia clearly had the better of two Tests against South Africa but could not land the knockout blow. In contrast, the Proteas were clinical when they had Australia on the rack in the series decider. Australia must develop that killer instinct against Sri Lanka because they can ill afford to waste chances next year against India and England.
4. Can Australia dismiss champion batsmen?
The best step up at big moments and in recent years the likes of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Alastair Cook, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis have proved hard obstacles to dislodge. If Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene have a hot series, Sri Lanka will have the runs on the board to place Australia’s batsmen under pressure. If they don’t then it will most likely be a comfortable series victory for Australia.
5. What to expect from Shane Watson?
There was a time not that long ago when Shane Watson was arguably the most important player in Australian cricket. A poor run with injuries combined with Michael Clarke’s rise means that is no longer the case, though he remains integral to Australia’s goals of retaining the urn and the No.1 Test rank. Although his value with the ball cannot be questioned, Watson has been steady rather than prolific with the bat during his stop-start Test career. Against Sri Lanka’s unheralded attack there will be expectations for him to add to his two centuries and show the dominance he has exerted in the limited-overs formats.