In response to a trio of shock Ashes selections from Australia, former legspinner Shane Warne has declared that England are in prime position heading into the first Test, which starts from November 23 at the Gabba. Australia picked Tim Paine, Shaun Marsh and Cameron Bancroft in a 13-member squad for the first two Tests, leaving out Matthew Wade, Matt Renshaw and Glenn Maxwell.
"Australia looks confused," Warne said at the Nine Network's season launch in Sydney. "They're picking wicketkeepers [Paine] that aren't even keeping for their state. To me, I think England are in a better situation going into that first Test than Australia are."
Despite the loss of Steven Finn to injury and Ben Stokes' unavailability before they had even boarded the plane, England are "going along just nicely", according to Warne. The most important thing for the visitors, Warne believes, is a change in English attitudes from the seven successful Ashes campaigns he played in from 1993 to 2007.
"They don't fear Australia anymore," he said. "[They] haven't for a long time and hence that's why they can beat Australia."
Discussing the Test selection with ESPNcricinfo, former captain Mark Taylor praised Trevor Hohns' panel for making a "really tough decision" by dropping a badly out of form Renshaw.
"They have come out and said that an Ashes series isn't the place to find form and that's probably a fair point," he said. "They have been saying for a while that they wanted to pick guys who were in form at the start of the series and Cameron Bancroft has been."
Taylor's then vice-captain and now television colleague, Ian Healy, was equally supportive of the decision to leave out the 21-year-old after ten Tests, in which he averages nearly 37. That was before Renshaw endured a horror run in the three recent Sheffield Shield rounds, tallying 70 runs for Queensland in six innings and never making it past 20.
"The Australian cricket team is not a club side, it is a representative side," Healy told ESPNcricinfo. "You need to earn your spot to get in and stay in it. He hasn't coped well this summer."
The former wicketkeeper has also backed the decision to leave out Matthew Wade in favour of Paine, who had not so much as kept for his state, Tasmania, in the domestic season so far.
"He [Paine] is very consistent, his technique is good so he should be able to cope with the pressure of being catapulted into this Ashes series," Healy said.
Healy also backed Paine's glovework, saying it is comparable to Peter Nevill, the man he beat for the Test nod: "He will do the job and he won't let Australia down."
Turning to the decision to give Shaun Marsh a middle-order reprieve, Taylor argued the call was justified on the basis of Marsh's time as an opener. Marsh had lost his Cricket Australia contract, following the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in March, where he scored 151 runs in eight innings in India at an average of 18.87.
"Someone with Shaun Marsh's experience at the top of the order coming in at six could be handy if and when England take a second new ball," he said. "That's why I think he's been given the spot."
Casting an eye to England's own batting line-up, another former captain, Ian Chappell, praised both Joe Root and Mark Stoneman. The latter, he thinks, is ripe for Ashes runs. Stoneman has shown good form in the tour matches, with fifty-plus scores in each of his four innings so far, including a century in the ongoing match against the Cricket Australia XI in Townsville.
"Stoneman is a very good player," Chappell said. "It won't surprise me if he makes more runs in the series than Alastair Cook. He is a good player and I can't believe England have taken so long to pick him as an opener when they have had so many false starts since Andrew Strauss' retirement."
He advocated both Steven Smith and Root going up the order to No. 3 in this series - in classic Chappell style. "You are better off coming in at one-for-shit rather than two-for-shit," he said. "That would be my approach. But neither of them wants to."
Chappell's forecast for the series is that it will come down to pace. Specifically, whether Australia can consistently field a fit Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins combination.
"In Australia if you are struggling for wickets you can always resort to a bit of short-pitched stuff and that is more easily done with genuine pace," Chappell said. "England has a good attack but I am just not sure how they will go if the Kookaburra isn't doing much. It is the extra pace of Starc and Cummins that I am basing Australia's superiority on. If one or the other were to be injured, that would change the dynamics quite a bit."
Rounding out the contributions of the former Australian captains was the man who led the whitewash four years ago, Michael Clarke, who is watching for David Warner.
"Warner is a key [player]," he said. "I know he's changed his attitude and approach and softened since, as Davey says, he's married Candice and had kids. But I think his attitude is the key to Australia's intent. When he walks out and bats with that intent, he always has success."