Australia’s preparations have been dogged by problems on and off the field

A battle-hardened and experienced England side goes into the five-match Test series against a callow-looking Australian team as strong favourite to retain the Ashes. The first Test starts at Trent Bridge on Wednesday.

While Australian preparations have been dogged by problems on and off the field, Alastair Cook’s England has quietly gone about its business, beating New Zealand 2-0 in a warm-up series and on Saturday it named a familiar 13-man squad.

“This bunch of cricketers have fought a lot of campaigns and won a lot together,” England coach Andy Flower said.

“They are match-hardened — that should give them a lot of confidence.

“We were pretty clear what our squad would be and what our XI will be,” added Flower.

The Pietersen factor

The mercurial Kevin Pietersen has been recalled after missing the New Zealand series due to injury and his presence in the middle-order gives Cook another major weapon in his first Ashes series as captain.

“Pietersen’s got that X-factor. He hasn’t played much cricket but he’s like Shane Warne — he loves the big moments and Ashes series,” former Australia batsman Damien Martyn said.

England’s batsmen have made over 80 Test centuries among them, Cook leading the way with 25 followed by Pietersen on 22.

But the team’s recent success has been built around its fast bowling attack led by James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

Steven Finn, Tim Bresnan and Graham Onions are fighting for the final place in the attack with off-spinner Graeme Swann certain to play.

“We’re not going into this game viewing the Australians as anything other than a very difficult team to beat — despite recent results in India ... we’re not viewing them as a pushover at all,” said England off-spinner Graeme Swann.

“(Favourites’) tags like that are quite dangerous if you start believing them — start believing your own hype. It can bite you on the backside fairly quickly, this game,” Swann warned.

“The English quicks are certainly as good as there are in the world at the moment and have been for the last few years,” said Australia opener Shane Watson.

“It is the ultimate challenge to be able to take on the best bowlers with a brand new ball, sometimes with bowler-friendly conditions as well, so if I can’t get up for that there’s no point in playing.”

Key player

Watson will be a key player for Australia and will open the batting with the 35-year-old Chris Rogers who has only played one Test in his career.

The retirements of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey have left Australia very short of experience in the middle-order and the form of captain Michael Clarke will be vital.

Clarke has struggled with a back injury this year, missing last month’s Champions Trophy, but he has looked in good touch in the warm-up matches.

His form with the bat since taking over the captaincy has been outstanding and he has made 23 Test centuries in total, nearly twice as many as his teammates have managed between them.

Peter Siddle, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc will lead the pace attack, probably supported by off-spinner Nathan Lyon who is more of a containing bowler than a genuine wicket-taker like Swann.

New coach

England has won three of the last four Ashes series including a 3-1 victory in Australia in 2010-11 but Martyn believes the appointment of Darren Lehmann as coach two weeks ago gives the touring side a better chance of reclaiming the urn.

“In Australia, there’s a huge buzz now that the coach has changed,” he said. “There’s a lot more excitement. We’re starting to believe that we can win this, we can compete with England and pull off a win.”

The teams (from): England: Alastair Cook (capt.), Joe Root, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior (wk), Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Graham Onions, James Anderson, Tim Bresnan and Steven Finn.

Australia: Chris Rogers, Shane Watson, Phil Hughes, David Warner, Michael Clarke (capt.), Ed Cowan, Brad Haddin (wk), Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon, James Pattinson, Ryan Harris, Mitchell Starc, Jackson Bird, Usman Khawaja, James Faulkner, Steven Smith and Matthew Wade.

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