LONDON • Steve Waugh has said cricket's Ashes are too close to call as England and Australia prepare to resume battle, with the visitors seeking their first away win in the series for 18 years.
With the exception of the 2010-11 series in Australia, which England won 3-1, home advantage has been decisive since Waugh's side triumphed 4-1 away in 2001.
But the former Australia captain believes it is "50-50" as to who will emerge triumphant over the course of the five Tests starting at Edgbaston on Thursday.
"I really believe it's a big ask for the fast bowlers on both sides to play five Tests in six weeks," he said. "That could have a big impact on the whole series, so for instance Jimmy Anderson gets injured, or Mitchell Starc gets injured for us, it could really affect the line-up.
"Depth in the squad will be important, but I honestly think if I was a betting man, I wouldn't back either side because I don't know who's going to win.
"It's going to be that even, it's going to be a fantastic series."
Waugh, who is mentoring his former team, added that it was a mystery why Australia had not won in England for so long, but his advice to Tim Paine's players would be to "make your own history".
"We've come up against some really good England sides in those last 18 years," he said. "We've had some tight series and moments when we could have won the series, probably a bit like the other way round for England in that period where they lost a lot."
The hosts will go into the series buoyed by winning the Cricket World Cup for the first time - they beat 2015 champions Australia in the semi-finals - but Waugh insisted their victory would have no impact on the Ashes as "one-day cricket is irrelevant to Test cricket".
"They're different teams, different captains. It's a different sport really," he said. " If you compare Test cricket and one-day cricket, you're almost not playing the same sport.
"It's played in a totally different way. England will say it's important for everyone and sure, if you win that's great but when it comes to the first Test at Edgbaston, it's not going to matter what happened in the one-day World Cup."
The first Test is taking place in Birmingham, where England have not lost since 2008, but Waugh feels that will not play on the minds of Paine's men.
"I've won there in Ashes contests," the 54-year-old said. "If you start believing something and building it up it becomes true, but in my mind, it shouldn't be an issue."
However, Waugh, who was known for his uncompromising approach on the field, admitted that he was expecting some rough treatment from English crowds for Steve Smith and Dave Warner.
The two batsmen were each banned for 12 months over their involvement in a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa last year, while Cameron Bancroft, also named in the Test squad for the Ashes, was suspended for nine months.
But Waugh insisted Australia had turned a corner and were now "in good shape".
"(Test captain) Paine's done a really good job and he's a good leader. Hopefully, you'll still see the team play the Aussie way on the field," he said.