England's unity gives them a slight edge going into the Ashes, according to the former Australia wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist. The 39-year-old – who played in the last two Ashes series Down Under, both of them won by Australia – expects a tight series but he believes England's fastidious preparation for the first Test in Brisbane next week could be crucial as Australia struggle to decide on their best XI.
"England are favourites, but that doesn't guarantee the Ashes," he said. "There's not a great skill difference between the two sides. Whatever team Australia settle on, it won't make a huge amount of difference.
"In 2009 both teams were in similar positions mentally – neither team was certain on their make-up – but the progression from England in that area has led to greater confidence and they've progressed a bit further than Australia.
"The England side seem committed to the leadership group. That's a strong asset. I'm not sure Australia know their best XI; naming a squad of 17 would indicate some sort of uncertainty."
Nonetheless, Gilchrist expects Australia to work on some of the weaker members of the England side. If they manage to upset the likes of Alastair Cook and James Anderson, he thinks that the hosts could reclaim the Ashes. "Cook's not quite been at his best; he's got runs recently but he'll have memories of his previous tour here," said Gilchrist. "The England bowling line-up looks balanced and confident – but the leader, Jimmy Anderson, will also be able to remember his lack of success here four years ago.
"If Australia can get on top of him, or Cook, they could deflate England very quickly. What's happened in the build-up and the last 18 months don't guarantee anything. Australia will know that if they can open up a few wounds, anything is possible."
An Ashes success would be a huge boost for Australian cricket amid poor ticket sales and suggestions that the talent stream Down Under has dried up. On the first point, Gilchrist believes that supporters' uncertainty over the future of the Test game has played a part. "I think the cricketing public in general are a bit confused at the moment," he said. "It's a changing time, with the huge impact that Twenty20 has had, and people don't quite know what's on when or what cricket is going to be about long term.
"The beauty of this current series is that I really don't know who's going to win. I don't think it will be finished in three Tests. It will be like the last series in England: tight to the end."
Adam Gilchrist was speaking ahead of Sky Sports' live and HD Ashes coverage, which begins on 24 November on Sky Sports 1
Countdown to the Ashes
8 The number of hat-tricks taken by bowlers in Ashes Test history. Australia have taken four through Frederick Spofforth, Hugh Trumble (two) and Shane Warne while England's four came from Billy Bates, Johnny Briggs, Jack Hearne and, most recently, Darren Gough in 1999.