Australia may be strong favourites to retain the Ashes, but Graeme Swann believes there is little to fear from them.

Swann, the highest wicket-taker when England won in 2013, suggested that Mitchell Johnson, who played such a key role in the whitewash of 2013-14, was unlikely to retain his place in the side, and suggested Steven Smith, the No. 1 rated batsman in Test cricket, could struggle against the swinging ball. But he does fear the influence of Mitchell Starc who, he believes, could define the series.

"I don't think Mitchell Johnson will play in the team," Swann said at a Chance to Shine school in Nottingham where he helped launch a new card game for the charity. "He's not the Mitchell to worry about. Mitchell Starc is above and beyond the best match-winning player they've got at the minute.

"Forget about the batsmen. If Mitchell Starc bowls well, I don't think England have got any hope of winning the Ashes. If they nullify him in some way, then they've got a chance."

While Swann described Smith's form over the last 18-months as "incredible", he remains unconvinced by his technique and suggested flaws would emerge as his career continues.

"I didn't think he was a great player," Swann said. "I still don't think he's got a great technique. He bats five. I don't think he would score runs at three if it's swinging.

"He's a very good player of the short ball. He picks it up extremely quickly for his pull shot. He pulls the length that most people just fend at and nick. And he's been incredible over the last 18 months. He must have surprised himself, as well as everyone else, with his output. The trick for him is to try to keep that going. Whether he can, time will tell.

"In Australia, when we were going through them, he still hung around a lot. Normal balls that get normal batsmen out don't get him out because of his weird technique.

"But a bit like Jonathan Trott, how he was stellar at the start of his career, the more people study, the more they find weaknesses. Weakness will emerge with Steve Smith. He's not like a Steve Waugh, where there's no obvious ways of getting him out. He doesn't strike fear in you like the Aussies used to, with Matt Hayden or Adam Gilchrist."

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George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo