The Ashes 2013/14: jury still out on Mitchell Johnson but series will be closer
Our Ashes Panel has its say on Bailey and Johnson - and makes its series predictions...
Last Updated: 19/11/13 2:12pm
Standing in the way of Alastair Cook's side bid to rewrite history is an Australian side out to avenge this summer's 3-0 defeat.
But what's changed since then? Can the Baggy Greens upset the odds? Our Ashes Panel of Mike Atherton, Nasser Hussain, Sir Ian Botham, David Gower and Bob Willis - who have already given their views on England - have their say and make their series predictions...
skysports.com: What hope - if any - can you offer to Australian fans of their team regaining the urn?
Botham: We all know how good a player Michael Clarke is and Australia will be keeping their fingers crossed that he stays fit, while Ryan Harris is a terrific bowler. I love his attitude - he just keeps running in - and is a real wicket-taker whose fitness seems to be improving. Peter Siddle is a work horse but there is an element of 'who knows what' the other players will do.
Atherton: I do think this is a more settled Australian line-up. There were no surprises in that 12 and you pretty much know what they are going to come at you with, which is: Rogers, Warner, Watson, Clarke, Smith and Bailey. Before any of the Tests in England you didn't know what line-up they would pick, so there's an element that things have settled down and that can only be to their advantage.
Gower: I think England have an emphatic advantage when you compare the two batting sides. If everyone plays to their averages, we are streets ahead. Games can still turn on one man having a really good day but we have greater depth and should be comfortably ahead.
Hussain: The major issue is going to be how Clarke plays because towards the end of the summer England, and Stuart Broad in particular, worked him over. If Clarke fires then Australia look to have a decent line-up but if he struggles the focus goes onto the likes of Warner and Smith - guys with potential but who need big series.
skysports.com: Shane Warne sees things rather differently and is backing Mitchell Johnson to blow England away. What are the chances?
Atherton: I remember the build-up to Brisbane three years ago and this is almost exactly the same thing - Johnson is 'going to knock people's heads off, he's going to be the difference'. He may well be, but he's still very much hit and miss. At his best he's no doubt a wonderfully dangerous bowler but you just don't know. When Clarke throws the ball to Johnson on that first morning in Brisbane in his heart won't quite know what he's going to get.
Botham: He's one of those 'who knows what' players I was talking about. He got it right in one game in the last series, at Perth, and produced a match-winning display but he needs to fire up more often, find more consistency and do everything he can to stay fit.
Gower: There appeared to be improvements in his action during the NatWest Series but I'm sure England will try to put some psychological pressure on him if they possibly can and then it's down to him to prove his inner strength and show that the confidence and bluster is justified. There's a big difference between bowling 10 overs in the course of a one-day game and 20 through the course of a Test match day. He's certainly a danger because he's an athletic bowler who has the potential to be very dangerous but if he loses his rhythm and action that could go out of the window.
Willis: I agree that there is evidence he's improved since the last Ashes - Dennis Lillee and Craig McDermott, no less, say he is much improved - but all this bluster about him bowling at almost 100 miles an hour is completely irrelevant if he doesn't bowl the ball straight. It's one thing shining in one-day cricket, it's quite another in Test cricket. He bowled beautifully in one Test match three years ago in Perth but wasn't good enough to get on the Ashes tour of England. He'll see this as his last opportunity to re-establish himself in the Australian side. I've got great respect for the Australian seam attack; I think Harris is outstanding while Siddle is always under-estimated - he's in the top 10 of world bowlers.
Hussain: If Johnson starts badly, you can imagine what the Barmy Army are going to make of that! No-one is questioning his ability at the moment, though; he's got a lot of pace and movement, and he's almost as happy knocking people on the head as he is knocking them over. If he gets it right, that will take some of the pressure off Harris and Siddle, who are constantly Australia's go-to men and who can get bowled into the ground. An in-form Johnson can be used as a strike bowler so he's absolutely vital.
skysports.com: At 31, George Bailey will become Australia's oldest debutant batsman since Jeff Moss in 1978/79. Has he done enough to justify his place?
Atherton: Bailey's selection tells you a lot about the depth, or lack of, Australia's batting talent. There's a lot of talk about Alex Doolan, who is a good player doing well, but the days where they could rustle up a second XI of batsmen all of whom average over 50 in first-class cricket have gone. They had tremendous bench-strength back in the day with the likes of Law, Siddons, Lehmann, Love, Cox but they haven't got that now, for whatever reason. So they are relying very much on two or three key players and they are hopeful that someone like Bailey can find his feet very quickly at Test level. They've picked Bailey partly because he did so well in the one-day series in India and is in a purple run of form but also because they like his character, they think he's a reasonable sort. He's got his go because there is a scarcity of alternatives.
Hussain: Whatever people say, playing a Test match at the Gabba is miles different from playing a one-day series in India. You have to be tough to be an international cricketer and from what I've seen of Bailey, he's a very tough cricketer; a lot of big names questioned him when he was first chosen to lead the one-day team and he's proved them all wrong. The way he's played and captained in India tells you he's a mentally strong guy. He won't be able to tee off with Anderson and Broad coming at him with short stuff; his technique and dismissals will be analysed time and time again. He's under a different microscope now but everything tells me he's go the mental ingredients to do well. The Ashes series is about tough cricketers, which is why I've always been a fan of Broad's and I think Australia are picking better now than they did at the start of the last Ashes series.
Willis: Bailey is a mature enough cricketer to make the transition to Test cricket; it was a pretty onerous task to skipper Australia in that one-day series in India without Clarke on board and then Mitchell Johnson was whipped away from under his nose when they were a sniff away from winning the series. That must have been pretty frustrating for him. Australia clearly think that a mixture of youth and experience is what they need in the team; the selection of Rogers has worked for them and they think it's going to work with Bailey.
Gower: If you are going to judge someone, you don't judge him on his first 10 games when he's learning his trade - you look at how he has been in the last year and ask 'is now the time?' He has a proven ability to score runs under pressure in one-day cricket and I'll be interested to see how he gets on. He's a likeable character. I've listened to him on our broadcast when he's been captaining the one-day side and he's spoken pretty well. I wouldn't underestimate him but I wouldn't fear him too much, either.
skysports.com: Can you envisage Australia going into the Test without spinner Nathan Lyon?
Hussain: I was amazed that Lyon didn't start this summer's series because while he's no Warne but he's a good off-spinner. Brisbane can turn and bounce come day four, so Australia will surely have to pick him.
Atherton: Lyon has got a good record in Brisbane, which tends to be a great cricket pitch for all. If you bat well you score runs, quick bowlers have something to go at but there is also some bounce for spinners and you get balls that can spin at the back end. It is going to have to be a pitch like 1990/91 when it was so juicy the ball was taking divots out of the pitch on the first morning for Australia to contemplate not playing a spinner. Australia might, given the injury to Watson, think about it but I still think Lyon will play.
Gower: Lyon wouldn't be in my top three spinners in world cricket but, yes, I expect him to play.
Atherton: I feel less confident about England's chances now than I was before the summer, when I was supremely confident that England would win and win comfortably. Now I have a slight case of nervousness. It will be much closer than this summer's scoreline and I wouldn't rule Australia out at all because I would have liked England to have had better preparation than they've had. They've played against some ordinary players, so it's going to be a step up come Brisbane. They've got a lot of experienced players and it's much easier to turn it on and off when you've been around the block once or twice. My prediction is Australia 1-2 England
Gower: I've said 3-1 to England all of the way through, so it would be a bit awkward to change now!
Hussain: Australia are in a better place but I still fancy England, whatever the conditions are. If it's flat England have got the batting, if it seams they've got good seamers and if it spins they've got Graeme Swann. I can't see how Australia are going to manufacture it so it is biased in their favour. I'm going for either 3-1 or 2-1 to England depending on the weather and how flat the pitches are. If they are really flat there might be a couple of draws in there. It will be a lot closer than this summer. Australia isn't an easy place to win, that's for certain.
Willis: It's going to be a much closer contest than the summer. I see England's batting as far more consistent than Australia's and Swann is a far superior spinner to Lyon, although Lyon did a pretty good job in England. I expect England to shoot themselves in the foot in one match, so I'm going to go for 2-1 to England.
Botham: Why can't England win 5-0? Glenn McGrath said 5-0 for years and no-one queried that! England have to start as favourites because they are used to winning whereas Australia are still recovering from losing so many good players in such a short period of time. I know Warney's had a few digs (I'd be disappointed if he didn't) but if I was in the Australia camp or a supporter I'd be a little bit more worried about my own team rather than what England are up to, because they are doing quite well!
Stay up or catch up - watch England's defence of the Ashes in Australia this winter ONLY on Sky Sports, starting with the first Test from 11pm this Wednesday on Sky Sports 2.