LONDON • A callow England team with a new coach take on a bullish and streetwise Australia in an intriguing Ashes series which should provide plenty of drama and aggressive cricket.
Michael Clarke's touring side will attempt to win the urn on English soil for the first time in 14 years while Alastair Cook's hosts will try to win back the trophy following their crushing 5-0 defeat in the last series Down Under.
Two years ago, Australia went into the Ashes with a new coach in Darren Lehman and lost 0-3 but it was a victory margin which flattered England.
This time around, the hosts will be led by Australian coach Trevor Bayliss. He will aim to build on the feel-good factor that was generated by England's impressive resurgence in the recent one-day series against New Zealand.
Australia all-rounder Shane Watson believes having the 52-year-old Bayliss at the helm will give England an advantage.
"He knows a lot of us very well," Watson said. "He'll have these ideas about how he can try to expose our team. The edge will be the inside information he will have.
He knows a lot of us very well. He'll have these ideas about how he can try to expose our team.
SHANE WATSON, the Australian player, on England's Australian coach Trevor Bayliss
"But we know that if we are at our best, we will be very hard to beat."
After two barren years, Cook has rediscovered his batting form.
However, doubts remain about whether he has the captaincy acumen to outwit the Australians.
"I'm not sure how much flair he has," said former England captain Mike Brearley who masterminded three Ashes victories.
"It will be difficult for him if things don't go well to start with - and if he doesn't feel he's got the same spirit that the team have had in the one-day matches recently, and if he doesn't quite feel in charge," he added.
Brearley thinks Australia have a significant advantage in their bowling attack which is spearheaded by Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.
"Australia are a very tough team," Brearley said. "On paper, they are a better team than us.
"They have certainly got better bowling than we have.
"But we're playing at our home grounds which makes a difference.
FIGURING OUT THE ASHES
SERIES WINS THIS CENTURY
(2005, 2009, 2010-11, 2013)
(2001, 2002-03, 2006-07, 20013-14)
COMPARING CURRENT TEAMS
Most Ashes wickets
England: Fast bowler James Anderson struck 77 times in 23 Tests between 2006 and 2014.
Australia: Mitchell Johnson has taken 72 wickets in 14 matches from 2009 to 2014.
Most Ashes runs
England: Alastair Cook (1,787 in 25 Ashes Tests)
Australia: Michael Clarke (2,109 in 53 Tests)
Most Ashes catches
England: Cook (28)
Australia: Clarke (29)
"If we can get that spirit going, and people play to their best, then we've got a chance."
England were lifted in the New Zealand series by positive and match-changing innings from their middle-order batsmen.
"One of the exciting things is the flair in the young players from No. 5 to No. 8 - Joe Root is a terrific player, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali," Brearley said.
Cook will need major contributions from his experienced opening bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad and will be desperate for Gary Ballance and Ian Bell to rediscover their form at No. 3 and No. 4.
England could be tempted to play leg-spinner Adil Rashid in the first test in Cardiff starting tomorrow but it would be a gamble given the prolific form of the Australians.
Steve Smith is the top-ranked batsman in the world after a phenomenal run while David Warner, Chris Rogers, Clarke and Watson are proven run-scorers in the English conditions.
The first test usually proves to be pivotal. Two years ago, England won a thrilling and fluctuating game in Nottingham by 14 runs.
In 2009, the hosts' last-wicket pair Anderson and Monty Panesar survived for 37 minutes in Cardiff to secure the draw which set up a 2-1 series win. REUTERS
ASHES, 1ST TEST
England v Australia: Singtel TV Ch123 & StarHub Ch236, tomorrow, 6pm