Looking at the tours of the West Indies in isolation, it is hard to see how Australia can possibly lose the Ashes. England limped home with a drawn series, while Australia rarely needed to engage top gear to crush West Indies in emphatic style.
What stands out most of all is the absence of any significant weaknesses in the Australian squad, when compared to the uncertainty of England's player pool. The Aussies seem to have most bases covered, whatever conditions they are likely to face in England. The quicks are genuinely quick (unlike England's); Nathan Lyon and Fawad Ahmed are at least as potent, if not more so, than any spinners England have up their sleeve; and the important No. 3 batting spot is nailed down now by the hugely impressive Steven Smith. England continue to look for balance with an alternative to Garry Ballance.
If Jos Buttler is allowed to bat with freedom, perhaps he can cancel out the freewheeling Brad Haddin, who has a history of savaging the England attack when it tires. Joe Root is likely to score as many runs as anyone else but there are question marks over the form of Ian Bell, compared to Adam Voges and Michael Clarke. For all of these reasons, I find it hard to look past Australia, despite what the coach will say about it being a tough contest, respecting the opposition, blah blah blah.
To digress briefly: Voges' success is a win for one of the genuine nice guys on the circuit. Much like his former room-mate at the Centre of Excellence, George Bailey, his long first-class career tells us that you can be hard as nails without sacrificing basic courtesies. A true gentleman and a genuine leadership candidate if he remains in the team.
Australia's tour of the West Indies has finally put to rest the need for any excuses about doctored pitches. As arguably the best all-round team in the world at the moment, South Africa notwithstanding, Australia have the complete set of tools to deal with whatever strip of grass is served up to them. Green tops? Josh Hazlewood is your man. Fast and bouncy? That would be suicide if Mitchell Johnson is on song. If it's swinging, Mitchell Starc is on fire. Spinning wicket? Underestimate Lyon and Fawad at your peril. I'm not convinced that England have the bowling attack to cover all of these scenarios, not against the current Australian batting line-up anyway. And I haven't even mentioned Ryan Harris.
"Green tops? Josh Hazlewood is your man. Fast and bouncy? That would be suicide if Mitchell Johnson is on song. If it's swinging, Mitchell Starc is on fire"
On the topic of what sort of pitches Australia would prefer, I'd hazard a guess to say that it won't really matter. One can only hope that unlike during the previous two series in England, the uneducated cricket writers who cover rugby one weekend, athletics the next and then dabble in populist rhetoric will not air the sinister conspiracy theories they bring out whenever Australia lose away from home.
We've heard no such bleating from the West Indies for the simple reason that the better team won comfortably. If these same pitches had been produced in India for example, the games had lasted three days and the tourists lost, there would inevitably have been moaning about blatantly doctored pitches, by writers who never let the facts get in the way of buying cheap popularity. On their last tour to India, Australia won all four tosses, batted first and still lost 4-0. Apparently, it spun big. Shock, horror - it turns in India? Bounce and carry in Brisbane and Perth? Nips about in Cape Town? Bit damp in Dunedin? Must've been doctored!
In the last decade, Australia have won more Tests inside four days than they have lost. Many of them have been in Australia. Quite correctly, there is no suggestion that the pitches are doctored. If you select the right team and are better equipped to deal with the conditions, you tend to win games. The reverse is equally true.
Reference the two most recent Oval Ashes Tests and the dark accusations of spin-friendly pitches. In 2009, having read the pitch carefully, Australia chose to leave out their only spinner, Nathan Hauritz. Michael Hussey scored a brilliant hundred on this allegedly doctored fifth-day pitch. In 2013, England almost chased down a generous declaration at five runs an over on day five. The facts suggest that both these pitches were probably "better" than those in Dominica or Jamaica recently, though vastly superior skills (Australia) and relatively poor opposition (West Indies) meant no sinister murmurings about doctored pitches.
I expect this Ashes series to be no different. On form, on pedigree, Australia should romp it. They'll do it on any pitch because their batsmen are more attacking, their quicks are more venomous, their catching is more reliable, the spinners no worse than any England might have, and Clarke has historically been the more imaginative captain, albeit with superior weaponry.
England do not deserve to be written off - the gap is not yet a chasm, but on recent form, I can't see them sustaining winning intensity over a long series. And if I'm proven wrong, I dare say it will be because the quality of cricket from both sides will have made up for the uninspiring spectacle that the Frank Worrell Trophy has sadly become.