Ashes 2013/14: England and Australia shaping up for return series
Beefy, Mikey, Nass and Athers look at how England and Australia are shaping up for the 2013/14 Ashes.
Last Updated: 18/09/13 1:12pm
England - 3-0 winners this summer - begin the defence of the Ashes in Australia in a little over two months' time.
Sky Cricket's commentary team will be heading Down Under in November to bring you the best of the action from the return series, so do they think Australia can hit back on home turf?
After losing the Ashes, how much will winning the NatWest Series lift Australia?
SIR IAN BOTHAM: They'll take something out of it, for sure - they'll make a point of saying 'we're getting better'. When Darren Lehmann came in at the start of the summer Australia's ship was very wobbly but he's managed to steady things and Australia seem a lot happier as a unit. There will be a few changes for the first Test and I think Mitchell Johnson will definitely start because it's very hard to leave out bowlers who can bowl upwards of 90mph.
MICHAEL HOLDING: Australia will be very happy with Johnson's performance; he's bowled with great pace and a lot more control than the last time we saw him in the longer form of the game. They'll be hoping that he carries that forward into India and then the Ashes series because he can be a big player for them.
MICHAEL ATHERTON: Given the injuries to Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc, Johnson is a ready-made replacement with 200 Test wickets to his name. He's very experienced and if he shows the kind of form he has in the NatWest Series he's going to be a handful. Overall Australia have certainly ended the summer far better than they started it, albeit against an England side that hasn't been at full strength.
NASSER HUSSAIN: For all the work and effort they've put in, it would have been a crushing blow if they had gone home with nothing. Johnson does look a completely different cricketer from when we last saw him. He's a lot more accurate and has got pace; handling pressure is going to be important Down Under too. There will be a lot of support for England from the Barmy Army and at times the atmosphere might be quite hostile but it looks as though he's matured. He had a fabulous IPL tournament and he hardly bowled a bad spell in the NatWest Series, which tends to suggest that his action is somewhere near back to its best.
Were England right to rest so many senior players for the NatWest Series?
NASS: I'm all for rotation so long as the players picked are worthy of an England cap and I think the guys they've picked in this one-day series are. During the Champions Trophy everyone was saying 'we keep playing the same players - the top three need to be more dynamic' so they've had a look at Michael Carberry, Kevin Pietersen and Joe Root at the top of the order. They haven't won the series and at times they've been outclassed by Australia but I think they've also learnt a lot. I do believe playing the youngsters was fair enough - you can't just keep going to the same people time in, time out - and the players that they've gone to haven't just been random picks.
BEEFY: There were a lot of new faces but I don't have a problem with that. If England want to experiment that's fine because there's a World Cup not far away in Australia and New Zealand. They wanted to have a look at a few people and Boyd Rankin has probably bowled himself onto the plane to Australia. Ben Stokes has also done extremely well, while Jos Buttler has shown how good an understudy he can be for Matt Prior. So England have found a bit out. Eoin Morgan has done pretty well as a leader too.
ATHERS: You've always got to strike that balance between trying to pick a side to win a series and trying to develop the side and move it on and make sure that by the time that the really important one-day matches come around - such as those in the World Cup - that they've got exactly the right squad. It would be unrealistic of England to play every player in every game and - in light of the bowling injuries that Australia have had to deal with - it's probably fair enough to rest the likes of Broad and Anderson. I thought Alastair Cook started to look weary at the end of the Ashes but if you are England captain I'm afraid that is part of the job and I hope that he plays in the one-day games at the back end of the Ashes.
MIKEY: Everyone knows that England didn't pick their best one-day team and that the big guns are still to come back in. I think England should have brought in a couple of individuals, not four or five brand new players; I don't see the point in bringing in that many all at once. You still need a bit of experience around so that the youngsters that you do bring in have someone they can learn from. Ben Stokes has bowled well and looks a pretty good cricketer and Jos Buttler has done well, even if he's been around a bit now.
Will the faster, harder pitches in Australia bring the best out of players like Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott and can England retain the urn?
BEEFY: Not just Trott and Cook - but someone like Matt Prior will enjoy it too because he's another one who likes pace on the ball. The quicker pitches will also give the bowlers something to go with. That's why Jimmy Anderson looked so tired at the end of the summer - it was such hard work on some of this summer's pitches. He'll be looking forward to bowling on a surface where he can see the ball carry through to the slips. I definitely think England can win.
ATHERS: The extra pace and bounce will suit Cook and Trott, although I do think that Australia are starting to find a way of bowling to both of them. Cook and Trott played magnificently on the last tour of Australia but this summer Australia started to push the ball fuller to Cook and across him, while they were bowling an increased number of shorter deliveries at Trott. England won 3-0 here but they were by no means at their best and if England can get to their best you'd think that's quite a big margin for Australia to overturn. But I think that Australia are going into the return series Down Under with a lot more genuine hope than they had coming in to this series.
MIKEY: Trott has some work to do on those quicker pitches because Australia are going to bounce him. He has struggled on the slower pitches in England with the short ball, and it will be a bigger problem in Australia. But he's a very good player and he'll be working on it. I think the cricket will be a lot better than we saw in England this summer but England should win because their bowling unit has more firepower. That said, I'm expecting Australia to put up a much better fight on their home turf.
NASSER: When you have 10 Tests in a row between two sides it allows battles to develop and there are some really good contests to look forward to. Australia didn't know how to bowl to Trott in the last series Down Under but now they've got a plan, sticking it in short and then bringing him forward and likewise England have a plan to Clarke, with Broad going at him with some short stuff. I wasn't one who believed at the start of the summer that this is a rubbish Australia squad. They've lost some key battles this summer and they need to learn to win again. But I still believe that when England are at full strength they'll be too good - plus they've got so many good, fond memories of Australia to lift them. It won't be easy but I expect them to win.
Watch the 2013/14 Ashes live on Sky Sports and the Ashes Events Centre - available online and on iPad and mobile - from November.