London: With the ball they use, the pitches they prepare and the batting line-ups, this will be up there with the lowest-scoring Ashes series. You look at both bowling attacks and their skill and discipline, and teams might struggle to reach 300.
It would not surprise me at all if we saw a really disciplined Australia team. Justin Langer will instill a hard-work ethic. He has had Steve Waugh around the camp to try to relive the spirit of the Nineties to get them thinking about what they could achieve now.
Fundamentally, we are looking at two Test-match teams where we do not know the identity of either line-up. Ten or 15 years ago, Australia had a really intimidating style. We would not see that now. We will see a really hard-working Australia team.
Peter Siddle — who is now 34 — played only one Test in the 2015 series. Now, he will be pivotal. So the likes of Nathan Lyon and Siddle will try to bowl the dots and then teammates Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood will aim to blow the English away.
With the bat, Steve Smith and David Warner will be the key for Australia. Smith is playing well enough to be the difference between the sides. If he gets in, he gets big, big scores — he goes on to get 150, whereas too many England batsmen get out for sixties and seventies when they are set. The Ashes may be decided by the Joe Root-Smith battle — whoever gets the most runs will win the series for their country.
I like what Australia have done in picking players who have been doing well in these conditions. Cameron Bancroft’s a good selection, Matthew Wade’s a good selection. They are typical Langer-style cricketers: tough nuts.
They have got a captain in Tim Paine who is a great leader and good guy — but if England do not let him get runs in the first Test, they can put his place under pressure.
The main problem with England is that I wonder whether Root really knows the identity of his team and what he wants it to look like. What we do know is if the ball moves around like it did last summer and against Ireland, with the bowling attack they have, the big scores may not be required.
Andrew Strauss’s team was full of discipline and control — some people called them boring. My teams would have been more remembered for aggression and attacking — but we could also be smart, with Strauss and Marcus Trescothick good at assessing conditions and toughing them out.
One thing I will say to England: to become a very strong Test team takes a lot of hard work, more than in One-day International cricket. Test cricket challenges you in different ways — emotionally, it hurts you at times, and you have to be able to come back from adversity and adapt.
Over the next year, I want to see an England team with an identity that we can all understand. Fundamentals are needed to achieve that. When the ball moves around late you have to be very careful. For this England team only to pass 400 once in 31 innings is nothing short of embarrassing. I know there have been some tough conditions in which to bat, in England, Sri Lanka and the West Indies, but it is simply not good enough.
For someone like Jack Leach to come in as a nightwatchman and have given them a lesson in how to play Test cricket is concerning. All he did was have a simple method. In Test matches, simplicity works. In ODIs, unorthodoxy works. Leach proved that making the bowlers come to you works. Never did I think I would write that England had to take a leaf out of Leach’s book in Tests. But they do.
Jonny Bairstow is averaging six in the past two years when the ball has been hitting the stumps from a pace bowler. That is not good enough. Being bowled 14 times out of 31 is also not up to standard.
I am just being realistic. For a player who plays like he can it is just not good enough. He is the kind of guy who needs to be switched on mentally to be at his best, and he did not look like that against Ireland. He will get criticised after this week and that often brings the best out of him. But he is averaging under 30 in the past two years now — you cannot tell me he keeps getting jaffas.
In the World Cup semi-final, Starc bowled a delivery that swung into Bairstow at 92mph. He defended it immaculately. That is what I would like to see him do in Test cricket.
Like they did four years ago in white-ball cricket, it is getting to the stage where we may need to identify specialists for this format. They may need to bring in Ben Foakes as a Test specialist very soon: he looks like he has got the game for Tests, and it will probably be the only format in which he is a regular at international level.
The key for England to win the Ashes is discipline and earning the right to be aggressive. They have got the aggression and flamboyance but you cannot get anywhere without discipline.
The old saying by Geoffrey Boycott is you cannot win a Test on day one but you can lose it. England know that too well. For this England team to be bowled out for under 100 three times since the start of 2018 ... come on.
I do not think there will be a draw in the Ashes series. There will be five results. I do fear this series. The Aussies will be tough to beat. The good thing for England is they start at Edgbaston — our Brisbane. If Australia win there, it will be very tough to turn it around. Whoever wins at Edgbaston will go on to win the Ashes.
— The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2019