BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 20: A replica Ashes Urn is seen with an Australian Ashes Test Shirt during the Australia Test cricket team portrait session on November 20, 2017 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Australia

Squad

Steve Smith (c), David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Chadd Sayers, Jackson Bird.

Why they can win

First and foremost, they’re playing on their home deck, on familiar pitches and grounds that suit their ferocious fast-bowling attack and which their batting line-up plays domestic cricket.

The clear strength for the Aussies is their lethal bowling attack. Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc are a three-pronged pace trio that strike fear into the heart of even the best sides in the cricket world, especially on decks like the Gabba and the WACA.

Australia will hope Starc’s express-paced left-arm approach can mirror the results of Mitch Johnson in the last Ashes series in Australia, where he wrecked havoc with ball in hand. Jackson Bird’s consistent technique provides a solid option if one of the three go down injured, which is vital over a gruelling five-game series.

Off-spinner Nathan Lyon complements the dangerous pace stocks well with his consistent ability to take a couple wickets each innings, while giving the quicks a reprieve. In the 2013/14 Ashes series in Australia, Lyon took 19 wickets at an average of 29.36.

David Warner and Steve Smith are clear standouts from a batting viewpoint, world-class players who can turn a game with a century in timely manners, and both are players who thrive in Australian conditions. Another batsman who loves playing down under is Usman Khawaja, who averages 63.73 on home soil and will be a constant threat for the English bowling attack.

Why they could lose

The lack of quality in the batting line-up is predicted to be the weakness of the Aussies this summer, with uncertainty surrounding all positions bar Warner, Smith and Khawaja.

Shaun Marsh has earned his eighth, that’s right eighth, Test-match reprieve, much to the bemusement of many punters, while Peter Handscomb has struggled slightly at Shield level this season despite having an impressive Test-match summer a year ago.

Opener Cameron Bancroft has replaced Matthew Renshaw in the team, a largely unknown quantity at international level, and will be a target for the English attack from day one of the first Test.

HOBART, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 02: Tim Paine of the Hurricanes wicketkeeps during the Big Bash League match between the Hobart Hurricanes and the Brisbane Heat at Blundstone Arena on January 2, 2015 in Hobart, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Another question mark over the Aussies is the wicketkeeper, where selectors have elected to go with Tim Paine despite not keeping for Tasmania in the Sheffield Shield. Paine was selected on the back of a 71 not out for Tassie, and solid keeping jobs for the national side at T20 level. However, his lack of runs or even wicketkeeping time at domestic level means his selection is a significant risk for Australia.

England

Squad

Joe Root (c), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.

Why they can win

Most of the cause for optimism from the English camp stems from Australia’s questionable batting lineup, which the visiting side will believe they can exploit. The bowling group of Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Moeen Ali can be lethal at their best, and although Australian conditions don’t usually suit them, their best can match it with anyone.

Joe Root, Alastair Cook and Jonny Bairstow provide quality in the rest of the squad, and at their best have the capabilities of frustrating the Aussies and causing an upset.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 09: Joe Root of England walks onto the ground at the conclusion of the tea break during day two of the Four Day Tour match between the Cricket Australia XI and England at Adelaide Oval on November 9, 2017 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

As the current holders of the urn, England only need a tied series to retain the Ashes, a potentially interesting dynamic as the series progresses. They will draw confidence from the 2010/11 series down under where they went home victorious after a 3-1 series win, proving it is possible to win away from Britain.

The greatest variable for the English is the availability of Ben Stokes, who if cleared to play will be a significant boost for their hopes of taking the series.

Why they could lose

The main and quite obvious reason England won’t hold on to the urn this summer is because the series is played in Australia. England have won just one of their last seven Ashes series in Australia, including going down in a 5-0 whitewash twice in the last decade.

The uncertainty surrounding gun all-rounder Ben Stokes is another factor against England, with his assault charge proving a distraction for the visitors’ preparation. Stokes’ potential absence would leave a gaping hole in the English side, as his firepower with both bat and ball vital to their chances on Australian fast-bowler friendly decks.

BRISTOL, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 23: Ben Stokes of England (C) looks on during an England Nets Session at the Brightside Ground on September 23, 2017 in Bristol, England. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Another concern, as it is every Australian Ashes series, is the English bowlers’ ability to take wickets in less swing-friendly conditions. Despite being a world-class bowler for years, James Anderson generally has a tough time producing his best in the dry Australian conditions, putting more pressure on Stuart Broad to take wickets at a high rate.

Aside from Root and Cook, England’s top order is also relatively inexperienced.

The Englishman have also been hit with a host of injuries, leaving their slim chances of retaining the urn all the more difficult.

Summary

The 2017/18 Ashes Series is shaping as an intriguing contest between two sides with more questions than answers heading into the summer.

The Ben Stokes situation will have a seismic impact on the result of the series, as will the success or lack thereof that comes from the Aussies’ bold decision to instill Tim Paine as wicketkeeper.

Australia head into the Ashes warm favourites on their home deck behind their lethal bowling attack, which if remains healthy (a big if after recent years) should be too strong for the visiting side.

The tactical prowess from young captains Steve Smith and Joe Root will be another factor to watch across the course of the series, as well as their likely dominance with bat in hand as their respective teams’ dominant batsmen.

Predictions

Result: Australia 3-1

Player of the Series: Mitchell Starc

Most runs: Steve Smith

Most Wickets: Mitchell Starc