Get ready for an epic Ashes double!
As England and Australia prepare to lock horns in the first of 10 Ashes Tests, five at home and five away, skysports.com's Ashes Panel has reconvened to assess whether this England squad has what it takes to retain the urn.
So, without further ado, here is how former England captains David Gower, Sir Ian Botham, Bob Willis, Michael Atherton, Nasser Hussain and Andrew Strauss think the series will unfold. Don't forget to tell us your predictions or Tweet them to @SkyCricket...
skysports.com: The Ashes is finally here so it's time to get your predictions. What do you think the result will be and why?
Ian Botham: England 5-0 Australia
I've said openly for a while now that I think it will be 5-0 - and by that I mean 5-0 to England here and 5-0 to England over there! Yes, you've got to factor the weather in over here but even so I'm backing a whitewash. The Ashes are England's to lose. They should retain them in style and it should be backs-to-the-wall stuff for Australia. But you know that if you take 11 guys off Bondi beach they are going to give you a game because that is the nature of the beast. Australia will fight to the last man but when I look at the two sides on paper, England out-gun them. I think there is only one Australian player who would get into this England side at the moment and that would be Michael Clarke.
He's such a good player that I'd love to see him out there playing a full part this summer. I really hope his back doesn't let him down. England will target him without question - they will see him as the threat in a batting line up, which I don't think is particularly strong. He's scored almost a quarter of their runs in the last couple of years - that's a heck of a lot! Graeme Swann will cause problems come what may, and I think that England's seamers will, too. Just watch out for Peter Siddle, who will be a threat throughout the series. He will charge in because he's got a heart the size of a lion's and he's also no mug with the bat. He'll come out and score runs at times when Australia need them.
David Gower: England 3-0 Australia
England have greater all-round strengths - it's as simple as that - so I expect them to end the series as clear winners. As Beefy says, that doesn't mean it will be an easy ride. I know some people think it will be, but that's not how I see it and I don't think England do either. They are very well aware that the last thing they can afford to be is complacent in the slightest. If you don't perform to the best of your ability it levels the playing field and gives opportunities to the opposition that otherwise wouldn't be there. So I would preach controlled optimism. All logic, reason and analysis suggests that we are stronger man-for-man than Australia and if we play to our strengths then we will beat them but if we lose sight of that for any reason, it brings them back into the picture and probably quite quickly.
Australia's appointment of Darren Lehmann as coach looks a smart move. There tends to be a positive response from a side when a new coach or captain is appointed. Generally the team unit comes together to back up the new man; Lehmann is very much respected and very 'Aussie, Aussie' with what seems to be a natural talent for the job he is now in. He was a very good, tough, accomplished player and he has an earthy openness about his approach to life. I think that will help to gel the squad and lift them in the short term. But that doesn't change my views about the overall strength of the teams, which is the all-important factor in the end.
Mike Atherton: England 3-0 Australia
I'm going for 3-0 to England because I think fundamentally they are a better side than Australia. Australia's bowling is okay on the whole but their batting is extremely flimsy and very reliant on a couple of players - Shane Watson, Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin providing the bulk of the experience. One of Darren Lehmann's first decisions as Australia coach was to restore Watson to the top of the batting order and it will be fascinating to see if he is ready for the responsibility of such a role.
He has enjoyed success as an opener and his battle with James Anderson will be fascinating to watch; if Anderson is at his destructive best, knocking Watson over will give England a real lift and severely dent Australian morale. I think Graeme Swann is going to have a field day against some of the left-handers. But there will probably be bad weather around and Australia are not going to be a complete pushover. I think England will win confidently.
Nasser Hussain: England 3-1 Australia
Rumours of Australia's death have been greatly exaggerated. They are obviously not the side they were but they might never be that good again. That said, they are a pretty good side; their bowling attack is pretty useful and they've got batsmen who have got runs in England against English conditions. They are well led by Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann will definitely bring them all together. The Aussies were splitting under the previous regime and that's important, but I still think that England should be too good for them in English conditions if they play well.
I think their bowling attack will win them one of the Test matches; I think there will be a draw either at Old Trafford or Durham because of the weather. When that first over comes at Trent Bridge, England will be ready. It has been all about the Ashes since the final of the Champions Trophy. Ashes fever has been building up. Andy Flower has got to plan out not only how those players are going to be ready for the first Test, but also for the seventh, eighth and ninth Tests. Keeping players fresh for what are two huges series is of paramount importance.
Andrew Strauss: England 3-1 Australia
If England win here we should win in Australia too, so I'm going for 2-0 away. I just think that we've got too much experience and quality; there are too many weaknesses in the Australian line-up for them to be competitive in all five Test matches. They will certainly be competitive in at least one of them but over the passage of the series, England's superiority should shine through. But there are no foregone conclusions. Anyone who thinks that it will be a walkover and we needn't even bother thinking about how the matches might play out is walking in cloud cuckoo-land. There are going to be some really difficult, pressurised periods of play and those periods of play will determine the outcome of the Test match and ultimately the series result.
On the back of that, I think that whichever team wins over here has got a great chance of repeating the dose because there is so little time for a team to recover, change strategy and potentially change personnel that the winning side's momentum should carry them through to win in Australia. If you take the 2005 Ashes as a template I'm sure that's what we'd love to see this summer - close games, high-quality cricket, great hundreds, fantastic catches and inspired spells of bowling. If we get that it's the best possible advert for the Ashes series and Test cricket in general. We're at a time now where Test cricket needs that positive advertisement and I'm sure the players in both sides will be determined to ensure that is the case.
Bob Willis: England 3-1 Australia
I think England will bat badly once and lose a game and another Test will be affected by the weather and be drawn. England will win the other three with the help principally of Graeme Swann. Don't for one minute think that I am underestimating the Australian bowling attack, which I think is very handy indeed. If all of their bowlers stay fit, that attack will take some handling. But apart from Shane Watson, Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin the rest of the Australian batting looks very vulnerable to me. But how England go depends a great deal on the pitches. I'm expecting pitches similar to the type that we saw in the Champions Trophy.
Although it has been another ghastly summer, pitches have started very dry and I think that England will make sure that happens again. Swann will be even more of a key player on dry pitches against the Australian left-handers. I remember when Steven Finn bowled well against New Zealand at Headingley, Andy Flower made the point that it was good to see Finn performing well on a dry, flat pitch. I think there is a clue there as to what England are looking to provide in terms of surfaces. I think that they are better equipped in the swing and the spin departments, with James Anderson and Swann the key bowlers respectively.
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Hazel Day says...
Why on earth do the England selectors persist on picking the arrogant, over-paid under achieving Kevin Pietersen. He has proved over and over during the sat few years that he is past his best and has become an embarrassment to the country and the sport. I, along with all my circle of friends are totally disenchanted by this and desperately wish the selectors would give other better players the chance to prove themselves on the international scene.
Posted 14:18 10th July 2013
Nick Steadman says...
Today in the World Bowls Championship for blind and visually impared people, held in Worthing. My sister (Sarah Marshall) representing England, beat the Australian 21 - 0. Could this be an omen of how the Ashes are going to go. Another whitewash, would be nice. Yesterday she beat the New Zealander 21 -8. So come on Sarah, I'm very proud of her.
Posted 18:44 9th July 2013
Sean Lester says...
I think england will win series 3-1
Posted 10:48 9th July 2013
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