Sydney:Former captain Steve Waugh believes Australia should be slight favorite over England in this year's Ashes cricket series and says bowling selections will be crucial on the two evenly matched teams.
Waugh was part of four winning Ashes tours for Australia between 1989 and 2001. England regained the Ashes on Australia's last visit in 2005 but was beaten 5-0 in the following series Down Under in 2006-07.
The England squad for the upcoming first Test against the West Indies at Lord's doesn't contain a number of players from the side that won the Ashes in 2005, including former captain Michael Vaughan, Ian Bell and fast bowlers Steve Harmison, Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones.
After several veteran players retired, Australia lost a Test series to India on the subcontinent and at home to South Africa late last year but beat the Proteas in South Africa this year to narrowly hold onto the No. 1 Test ranking.
Waugh said Australia and England would be closely matched with little to choose between the two teams.
"We've got a very good squad, no matter who is going to be put on the park," Waugh said Thursday. "Our top 11 players will compete against anyone. I don't see why we can't win, but England will probably feel the same.
"There's probably a bit to go regarding team selection and fitness before that, so I'm not sure who our first XI is going to be and whose England is going to be in the first Test."
Allrounder Flintoff had a cartilage tear in his right knee repaired after he played two games for Chennai in the Indian Premier League. Jones' reverse swing was an important part of the 2005 team but he has barely played since, injuring his ankle in February 2006 followed by a serious knee injury.
"They need people like Flintoff and Jones to be in their team to be a chance of winning and we probably need a couple of our bowlers back," Waugh said. "I think it's pretty even, I think we're probably slight favorites."
Mitchell Johnson has been a revelation as Australia's pace spearhead without Brett Lee and Stuart Clark and had good support from an inexperienced in South Africa. With Lee aiming to return to fitness in time for the Ashes, Australian selectors could have more bowling options than they've had since the retirements of longtime leaders Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.
The five-Test Ashes series begins July 8 at Cardiff, Wales and continues with Tests beginning July 16 at Lord's, July 30 at Birmingham, Aug. 7 at Leeds and Aug. 20 at The Oval, London.