Gilchrist: England are the Ashes favourites

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The Independent Online

Adam Gilchrist believes England should start as favourites to win this winter's Ashes series.

The former Australia wicketkeeper-batsman thinks the tourists' confidence will stand them in good stead – but believes Australia's home advantage will make for an exciting series.

The England squad left for Australia yesterday and 38-year-old Gilchrist said: "I see a very confident, compact England unit about to arrive.

"England should start favourites – they are the most composed group at the moment and seem to have confidence about each other and as a group. That will serve them well on that first morning.

"But either team could win it. I agree with [England captain] Andrew Strauss – I think you can hardly split the top four or five teams in world cricket at the moment.

"There is no dominant team in cricket at the moment. On any given day one can beat the other."

On the hosts' current situation, Gilchrist added: "Australia have a tremendous home record and have been particularly strong over the last 15 to 20 years. The West Indies did well in the 1980s and early '90s but since then it's been a bit bare for the touring teams.

"Australia play the conditions well and [captain] Ricky Ponting plays particularly well in home conditions. There is going to be a lot of weight on his shoulders if they're to be successful and I suspect he'll be up for it too.

"But there is uncertainty about what their best XI is when everyone is fully fit. The bowling has suffered a great deal of disruption and that makes it difficult.

"The spin bowling position has always been under question since Shane Warne left. Nathan Hauritz has tried his best and received great support from the selectors and that will be another contentious issue as the series hots up.

"The team have taken a blow in confidence with a series of negative results and I think we are realising we don't like losing and took for granted that we were winning so often.

"But it's a new period in Australian cricket and there is no need to talk about the previous group."

England have a poor record Down Under in recent times. They lost their last tour 5-0 under the captaincy of Andrew Flintoff and are seeking a first series success in Australia since 1986-87, with the only three wins they have achieved in 26 matches since coming from "dead rubbers".

Asked for his prediction, Gilchrist added: "Either team could win it and I think everyone is anticipating another tight series.

"In 2009 you didn't know what the match situation was going to be at the end of each day. It will be a hard-fought, closely contested series."

The hosts sought to inject a fresh perspective into their selection panel (NSP) yesterday with Merv Hughes losing his job and Greg Chappell joining the four-man board alongside David Boon, Jamie Cox and chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch.

"After feedback from NSP chairman Andrew Hilditch during today's meeting, the board unanimously decided that David Boon, Jamie Cox and Greg Chappell were the best people to join him on the four-member NSP," said the Cricket Australia chief executive, James Sutherland.

"Andrew was clear in his assessment that Merv had been a good selector and a strong contributor around the selection table, but that Cox, Boon and Chappell were the better options to continue on the NSP."

England players will be allowed to express their thoughts on Twitter during the Ashes despite previous mishaps.

James Anderson, Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad all have Twitter accounts, but team management decided against an outright ban even after Kevin Pietersen used the site this year to post an expletive-laden complaint about his omission from the one-day side. Strauss said: "We like to treat people like adults."

26 days to the ashes

26 is the number of innings since Kevin Pietersen scored a Test century. His last hundred came against West Indies in March 2009, since when he has managed to average only 38.40 with the bat, some way below his career Test average of 47.80.