Ashes 2015: how England can beat Australia this summer
It's a tall order and England will need to improve their batting, bowling and fielding to win
The Ashes gets underway this week, but what chance do England's cricketers have of reclaiming the famous old urn, which they surrendered in abject fashion to Australia 18-months ago as they were whitewashed 5-0 by the hosts?
The early-season series against New Zealand has given the game in England a fillip, and the exploits of England's young players earlier in the summer has generated a surge of interest. But a weak start in the first Test in Cardiff could soon dispel the optimism.
The Australians will also pose a very different test to the amiable Kiwis, and with so much at stake there is bound be more of an edge to this series.
Australia start as favourites, but ahead of the series the experts have been predicting where The Ashes will be won and lost.
There is a very different look to England's top order now, compared with the start of the 2013 series, with Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen departed and Alastair Cook now accompanied by Adam Lyth at the top of the order – his sixth opening partner since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012.
A lot rests on Cook. "If England's largely young middle-order is to be given the best chance to prosper, they require some protection from the new ball and some foundations on which to build," says George Dobell of Cricinfo.
Gary Ballance at three has had a great start to his Test career but the honeymoon period is over and Ian Bell has struggled of late. "England cannot rely on the wonderful [Joe] Root alone," warns Steven Brenkley in The Independent. "Sometime his resplendent run of form must reach a hiatus... it is imperative that Gary Ballance and Bell muster four or five centuries between them."
But the lesser batsmen must stand firm too, warns Jonathan Agnew of the BBC. "In Australia, the lower order looked like they didn't fancy it, so now they have to find the guts and resilience to get behind the ball. They cannot allow Australia to think they are through the England batting once five wickets have gone down.
There is little doubt what did for England in the last Ashes series down under. They were blown away by the Australians, and Mitchell Johnson in particular. But the worrying thing for England fans is that Johnson is no longer Australia's main weapon, as Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood have proved just as effective.
Johnson remains a "compelling force" says The Independent, but Australia has a "new spearhead" in Starc. "After the sudden retirement of Ryan Harris owing to a knee injury, Starc – along with 24-year-old accomplice Josh Hazlewood – could be the difference between the two teams this summer."
Running the rule over Starc, The Times describes him as "fast and slingy... devastating against the lower order".
However, Agnew notes that all three quicks are all fallible, with Johnson erratic, Starc rusty and Hazlewood inexperienced. That could give England the chance to put the pressure on spinner Nathan Lyon.
Jimmy Anderson is now England's all-time Test wicket taker and will need to be at his elegant best against Australia, as will new-ball partner Stuart Broad. They will be backed up by Mark Wood and Ben Stokes.
Their performances will be vital, says Agnew. "One would assume England will continue to prepare green pitches that assist their pace bowlers... [and] they simply cannot allow Australia to be better than them in English conditions.
The bowlers must be "prepared to gamble", adds Agnew. "England must bowl as full as possible, practically half-volley length. Give the ball every chance to swing, challenge the batsmen's footwork."
But will it be enough? Kevin Pietersen, writing in the Daily Telegraph fears not. "The difference between the two teams this series is we do not have that strike bowler who can lead the attack and take wickets," he says.
There are also concerns about England's spin option. Observers agree that Moeen Ali will have to improve if England are to fare well.
England's problems begin with David Warner, "the most influential batsman on either side", according to the Daily Telegraph. "An arrogant loose shot when he goes in will expose [Steve] Smith to the new swinging ball. But a controlled Warner can still score a century in a session and put England under the pump for the rest of the match."
Smith, ranked as the world's best batsman, will be elevated to three in this series, but England will hope to expose his technique even though it has survived all examinations at number five in the order.
"Originally plonked down at No8 as a leg-spinning all-rounder on his Test debut against Pakistan at Lord's in 2010, Smith will walk out to bat in Cardiff after Australia's first opener is removed as the man who must not be allowed to bed in," notes Ali Martin of The Observer. "Can his homespun technique, one that remains fidgety at the crease... stand up to the rigours of the swinging Dukes ball on English pitches?"
Elsewhere England will hope that the form of Chris Rogers and Brad Haddin remains scratchy and that 35-year-old Adam Voges does not take to Test cricket, now that he has finally been given the chance.
Captain Michael Clarke will be on his fourth tour of England and desperate for a first series win on English soil. But his personal record against England is impressive. If Australia win "he will sit alongside the likes of Bradman, Waugh, Chappell, Ponting and Border as one of the greatest conquerors of England that Australian cricket has ever seen", says the Australian Daily Telegraph.
"If England are going to have any chance of success in this series, they are going to have to take more catches than they have in recent months," says George Dobell of Cricinfo. There will be pressure on wicketkeeper Jos Buttler, who is a fine batsman but must back that up with a good show behind the stumps.
A real hot potato after the verbal altercations of the last Ashes series, which look unseemly compared to the gentlemanly spirit of the recent matches against New Zealand.
The Daily Telegraph presents both sides of the argument. Simon Heffer notes that "Australians seem to associate this conduct with strength and manliness", while the public regards it as "pathetic and preposterous". Kevin Pietersen is less concerned. "The Ashes is sporting war and sledging is good for the game. I want more of it and I want there to be fire in the series," he says.
However, Agnew of the BBC says England should not concern themselves with verbals. "The reality is that the Ashes will not be won by sledging and that England must show their toughness by their performances on the pitch. The biggest challenge is to stand up to what is more or less the same team that blew them away down under 18 months ago."