England won't come close to us in Ashes - Smith
Steven Smith and Shane Watson are convinced Australia are on course to retain the Ashes in England later in the summer. Speaking exclusively to ESPNcricinfo, Smith said he doesn't think England will "come close" to challenging the Australian team on current form, while Watson said there is "huge hunger" within the squad to end the sequence of three consecutive Ashes series defeats in England of 2005, 2009 & 2013.
"We've got a very strong squad that's going over to England," Watson said. "We've got good depth and the best part is everyone is in nearly career-best form right now which is most important as well. There is a huge hunger within the group because we know that we haven't won in England for the last three series. I've been involved in two of those. There's a big burning desire to be involved in an Ashes winning campaign in England as well. We're as well prepared as we can be within our group. I'm incredibly excited about what's on the horizon with the Ashes and everyone else is as well."
"I can't wait to get over there and play another Ashes against England in their conditions after beating them so convincingly in Australia," Smith said. "It's going to be nice to go in their backyard. If we continue to play the way we have been playing over the last 12-18 months, I don't think that they'll come close to us to be honest."
Smith is widely expected to be formally named Australia's one-day captain after Michael Clarke decided to retire after the World Cup. Smith is also tipped to take over the reigns of the Test team when Clarke decides to hang his boots. While Watson endorsed the 25-year old for the job whole-heartedly, quipping Cricket Australia would be "crazy" to not give him the job, Smith was understandably not as forthcoming.
"It's not my job to decide who is going to be the captain in the future," Smith said. "I've had some good experiences and really enjoyed captaining the team in Michael's absence in the summer against India. It was a great learning experience for me to have senior players like Shane and Brad Haddin around the group to bounce ideas off. Shane was very supportive throughout the home series and to have him and Hadds next to me while I was standing at second slip and to have that wealth of experience beside me and to bounce ideas off them was really beneficial for me at the start and I really enjoyed the experience of captaining Australia."
Watson and Smith are currently in India as part of the Rajasthan Royals squad in the ongoing IPL. The 2008 champions made a strong start to their campaign, winning their first five matches although they lost their last two. Smith believes that Rajasthan are "yet to play their best cricket" despite having started the tournament well and expects the team to reach peak capacity come the home stretch of the tournament.
Watson, who was Man of the Series in the first edition of the IPL in 2008 and played a key role in Royals' unexpected run to the title, credits the "culture" built at the franchise over the years for them being able to punch above their weight and challenge teams that can boast of more marquee players. He thinks the current squad has the depth to be strong contenders this season again.
"Some of the other teams spend all their salary caps but in the end it's part of the evolution of our group to give an opportunity to people, like myself in the first year, to impress and get those guys in and around our group because we know they really want to get the best out of themselves and also for the team," Watson said. "We had a good year a couple of years ago  when we made the Champions League and this year it feels very special as well with the group we've got around and the depth in our squad has been as good as it ever has been."
Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75