Sky Cricket pundits make their Ashes predictions – are they backing England?

With the Ashes now only a matter of hours away, Sky Sports Cricket’s pundits have given their predictions for the hotly-anticipated series.

Former England captains Nasser Hussain and Michael Atherton disagree on the outcome but both argue there are weaknesses in the Australian side that the tourists can exploit.

Ex-England batsmen Marcus Trescothick and Rob Key agree that the series will be tight with the teams fairly evenly matched – but what way is former pace ace Bob Willis leaning? Find out below…

Nasser Hussain: 3-2 England

“People have downplayed England’s chances but they have won five of the last seven Ashes series and three of the last four. In Alastair Cook, Joe Root, James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes they have some very experienced cricketers and this series is at exactly the right time for them. I see Australia as vulnerable even at home, they are a very difficult side to beat in Australia but I see some frailties in their batting.

“There is a great opportunity for England with Australia going in with only four bowlers, three of whom – Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins – have been fragile. If England keep them out in the field long enough and can get big hundreds then at some stage that bowling attack will come under pressure.

“England have a batting line-up which has promise – Mark Stoneman went well during the warm-up matches and James Vince has got a bit of talent about him, he just has to convert that talent into big scores. With Cook and Root it’s a line-up, that if they get it right, in Australian conditions you could fear. They have to go out and prove that.

“For Root captaining in an Ashes series is special. What Joe will know from touring out there, it is a completely different style of cricket. In England the Dukes ball swings around for 70-80 overs and wickets are falling all around you, but in Australia after 15 overs the Kookaburra ball doesn’t move.

“Joe is going to have to earn his crust as captain and make sure he thinks outside of the box, has a plan B and realises there are times to sit in when the bat will dominate the ball. That is what he’ll enjoy as a batsman but as a captain he’ll have to think outside of the box.”

Michael Atherton: Australia

“History suggests it’s a once in a generation event for England to come to Australia and win. They have only done it a handful of times since the World War II and on the balance of that you’d say they are second favourites. You then look at the firepower in Australia’s line-up and you would say England are second favourites again as pace is generally an advantage in Australia.

“However, that’s not to say England can’t win. There are areas of weakness in the Australian team and you don’t know how far or how long their pace attack will last in a hard five-Test series.

“We saw David Warner injure his neck on Tuesday so you can get freak injuries like that and the one Glenn McGrath picked up in 2005. Australia start favourites but I see weaknesses in both so I don’t see a massive gap between the two teams. I just think they are favourites on the basis they are playing at home and in home conditions Australia are hard to beat.”

Australia vice-captain David Warner says he is confident of beating a neck injury to face England in the Ashes first Test in Brisbane on Thursday

Marcus Trescothick: 2-1 Australia

“There are a few areas for England which are unsettled in our batting department and the number three position is key. Stoneman seems to be settled at the top of the order and I know Malan has got runs batting at number five but it’s a big change up in the international game from five to three, where Vince will bat.

“Cook, Root and Jonny Bairstow can’t continue to bail the team out with the bat and England have to address that. The batting line-up has to be a bit more secure than it has recently. England will be happier since Australia have announced their squad with a few different faces but in Australian conditions it will still be quite tricky.”

Rob Key: 3-2 England

“My mind changes every day but at this very moment I have England to win. There is something about the Australian set-up, with the squad they have picked and the nonsense they are speaking, I feel like the game has a way of coming back at you.

“If you look at them on paper you can cancel them out with players from the England squad. Starc you can cancel out with Anderson, Cook with Steve Smith, Root with Warner and so on. There is not much between the two sides and the difference often in Ashes cricket is the lower order.

“Sometimes you can split the amount of runs scored by the top five or six by less than 100 runs but the difference could be as big as a 1,000 runs lower down – and I think England have the edge in that department.”

Bob Willis – Australia 2-2 England

“I hope England are going to retain the Ashes – but it is vital they don’t lose in Brisbane. I don’t think there is much to choose between the two batting line-ups at all. It’s Cook and Root for England versus Warner and Smith for Australia but I happen to think the likes of Bairstow and Moeen Ali are better prospects than the lesser lights in the Australian top seven.

Alastair Cook is respectful of Australia's bowling attack but says the threat they pose is nothing out of the ordinary

“I think Stoneman will also do a good job, with my main concerns for England’s batting over Vince and Malan lower down – that said, Malan is a nuggety player and in decent form. Australia are clearly worried about their batting line-up by picking Shaun Marsh and Tim Paine at No 6 and 7.

“Bowling Australia out is going to be the thing for England as we are clearly lacking firepower and Ben Stokes. England’s batsmen need to get used to the extra bounce – they haven’t had ideal warm-up matches but there is nothing new about that – but if they can adapt quickly I am optimistic they can draw the series. I am going for 2-2, especially with England well-equipped for the day-night Test.