With a month to go until the Ashes begins, Australia remain hot favourites but, with both sides looking distinctively ordinary in terms of personnel, it could be well tighter than anticipated, says Jamie Pacheco...
'Neither side can really be trusted, especially with the bat. Each Test could well come down to who wins the toss or just one player having a stand-out performance. With really only four or five batsmen of world-class standard on show across both sides, we could have some relatively low-scoring matches and that takes draws out of the equation.'
In exactly a month's time, there's one place in the world that most cricket fans will be turning to for their fix of rivalry-filled, never-say-die, hard-fought Test match cricket: Woolloongabba. Or Brisbane to you and me. Yes, the countdown is on to the First Test of the Ashes.
It's unlikely to be a vintage series in terms of the quality of the players. On both sides the current crop pales in comparison to sides of yesteryear. But what it might be lacking in sheer class, it might make up for in drama and unpredictability. Let's look at the team's strengths and weaknesses a month to the day before they go to battle.
Major strength: Home advantage.
It may sound obvious but don't underestimate it. Read the autobiography of any England cricketer who's had to spend weeks on end travelling around Australia when they're winning and you'll see it's hard work, a draining experience. It's twice as bad when you're losing.
Aussie fans are uncompromising people and the opposition becomes the enemy, rather than just professional cricketers trying to win matches. It gets to you and you'd hardly be human if you could step out onto the field of play and be completely immune to what's going on off it.
Minor strength: Pure pace
It's not just what's happening off the pitch that will aid the hosts, either. Australia have the faster bowlers in their squad and if any three from Mitchell Starc, James Patterson, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Jackson Bird are fit, there will be some serious pace on offer on these lightning quick tracks. England simply can't match them in this regard.
Weaknesses: Top-heavy batting
Compare the batsmen taking to the pitch and those who played in say, this match 11 years ago. Bar David Warner and Steve Smith, there's no-one you'd put your hard-earned on to get a big score.
There's a further problem. Whoever keeps wicket- Nevill, Wade, (a)another- is hardly full of runs either and none of the bowlers are known for some late-order hitting or sticking around for long. They don't bad deep.
Key man: David Warner
The problem for the opposition with Warner isn't just the runs he scores. It's how he scores them. Hitting opening bowlers round the park from the off is hugely demoralizing for them and highly motivating for his team-mates. And if you're chasing a fourth innings total, it helps when you could easily be 50-0 off 8 overs thanks to a few fearless blows off his big bat.
Major strength: England's prolific pair
In Alastair Cook and Joe Root England have two of the most reliable batsmen in world cricket.
They score runs in all conditions and in all circumstances and love batting for session after session. Their temperament and technique is excellent and boy, is it going to be needed. Given the former bats at 1 and the latter at 4, they'll often be batting together and theirs will be the key partnership in the match.
Minor strength: Broad and Anderson one last time
Much of what we said above can be repeated for the Stuart Broad and James Anderson partnership with the ball.
In this regard they trump Australia because no two bowlers of theirs have been around long enough to form the sort of partnership with the new ball that England possess. Their bodies are a little more battered than on previous visits Down Under and it's doubtful both of them will play all five Tests but their experience is priceless.
Weakness: What have you done, Ben?
It's hard to think of a worse thing that could have happened than the Ben Stokes incident. In a way it would have been better if he's have been ruled out entirely by now. Now Stokes, England management and other players are all in limbo about whether he's going to figure or not.
If he doesn't, the Tourists are without the man who has the X-factor and provides that great balance. If he does play, it's impossible for him to be in the right frame of mind to perform at his best. Especially given the relentless abuse he'll receive from those aforementioned Aussie fans. He's a tough character 'Stokesy' but this is something else.
Key man: Moeen Ali
In addition to being the main spinning option in the England ranks, Ali will have a key role with the bat at 7 or 8. Batting more sedately with the 'set' batsmen to form a partnership or counter-attacking and doing it all by himself if he's batting with the tail. That's exactly what Brad Haddin did for the Aussies last time out and swayed things their way, especially in the first two Tests.
Neither side can really be trusted, especially with the bat. Each Test could well come down to who wins the toss or just one player having a stand-out performance. With really only four or five batsmen of world-class standard on show across both sides, we could have some relatively low-scoring matches and that takes draws out of the equation. Backing both Australia (10.0) and England (20.0) to win 3-2 could be the way to go.