Battle-hardened England favourites for Ashes
A battle-hardened and experienced England side go into the five-match test series against a callow-looking Australian team as strong favourites to retain the Ashes.
While Australian preparations have been dogged by problems on and off the pitch, Alastair Cook's England have quietly gone about their business, beating New Zealand 2-0 in a warm-up series and on Saturday they named a familiar 13-man squad.
"This bunch of cricketers have fought a lot of campaigns and won a lot together," England coach Andy Flower said ahead of the opening test starting tomorrow at Trent Bridge, Nottingham. "They are match-hardened - that should give them a lot of confidence."
The mercurial Kevin Pietersen has been recalled after he missed the New Zealand series due to injury and his presence in the middle order gives Cook another major weapon in his first Ashes series as captain.
"Pietersen's got that X-factor. He hasn't played much cricket but he's like Shane Warne - he loves the big moments and Ashes series," said former Australia batsman Damien Martyn.
England's batsmen have made over 80 test centuries between them, Cook leading the way with 25 followed by Pietersen on 22. But the team's recent success has been built around their fast bowling attack led by James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
"The English quicks are certainly as good as there are in the world at the moment and have been for the last few years," said Australia opener Shane Watson. "It is the ultimate challenge to be able to take on the best bowlers with a brand new ball, sometimes with bowler-friendly conditions as well. So if I can't get up for that, there's no point in playing."
Watson will be a key player for Australia and will open the batting with 35-year-old Chris Rogers, who has played only one test match in his career.
Captain Michael Clarke has struggled with a back injury this year, missing last month's Champions Trophy, but he has looked in good touch in the warm-up matches.
His form with the bat since taking over the captaincy has been outstanding and he has made 23 test centuries in total, nearly twice as many as his teammates have managed between them.
Peter Siddle, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc will lead the pace attack, probably supported by off-spinner Nathan Lyon.
England have won three of the last four Ashes series including a 3-1 victory in Australia in 2010-11 but Martyn believes the appointment of Darren Lehmann as coach two weeks ago gives the touring side a better chance of reclaiming the urn.
"In Australia, there's a huge buzz now the coach has changed," he said. "There's a lot more excitement. We're starting to believe that we can win this."