Ashes 2015: England v Australia previewIBTimes UK

Another chapter in Ashes history will be written when England and Australia clash for the 69th time to decide the destiny of one of the oldest trophies in sporting history.

Ashes Fixtures

1st Test – Swalec Stadium: 8-12 July

2nd Test – Lord's: 16-20 July

3rd Test – Edgbaston: 29 July-2 August

4th Test – Trent Bridge: 6-10 August

5th Test – The Oval: 20-24 August

The Ashes
Cook and Clarke lock horns again 18 months on from the whitewash down underGetty Images

Overview

Just 18 months on from Australia's 5-0 whitewash of England down under, the finest rivalry in elite sport is reignited once again. While Michael Clarke's side have hunted down South Africa's title as the number one test side on the planet, England have been through the hardest of rebuilding projects.

Having beaten the Proteas in their own backyard after destroying England, Australia can claim to be the best test team on the planet, if not by the ICC rankings then certainly by reputation.

In Steven Smith they have the number one batsman in test cricket and in Mitchells Starc and Johnson a left-arm combination that can match any attack in the world.

Add to that the leadership of Michael Clarke, the explosiveness of David Warner and the experience of Brad Haddin and you have the backbone of the favourites to retain the Ashes.

Steven Smith
Smith arrives in England as the most dominant batsman in test cricketGetty Images

If Australia have a solid basis from which to work from, then England are a bumbling mess of a test team that, bar an encouraging one-day performance against New Zealand, are heading for their first Ashes series defeat on home soil since 2001.

Joe Root carries the hopes of a nation, along with record wicket-taker James Anderson, but elsewhere there is little room for encouragement. Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler provide the youthful injection, but the pressure cooker environment of an Ashes series means they could flourish like Kevin Pietersen or flounder like Ravi Bopara.

Questions continue to be asked over the captaincy, if not the batting form, of Alastair Cook, the international pedigree of opening partner Adam Lyth, the remainder of the top order of Gary Ballance and Ian Bell and the lack of a front-line spinner.

But in the green shoots of recovery which were seen in the entertaining limited overs matches against New Zealand, albeit with Eoin Morgan leading from the front, and the ageing bodies of the Australian team means vibrant and energetic performances could yet shock the tourists.

Key Players

Ben Stokes

Ben Stokes
Stokes will hope to repeat his success against New Zealand in the AshesGetty Images

The New Zealand-born all-rounder brought a tinge of 2005 to the English summer with his mesmerising knock at Lord's and he will be required to do much the same come the visit of Australia. With a thirst for throwing caution to the wind with the bat, an intensity with the ball and an unpredictable temperament; he is born for the challenge the Ashes presents. Just don't mention Andrew Flintoff.

Adam Voges

Adam Voges
Voges has begun his international career in stellar fashionGetty Images

Australia's second oldest debutant batsman excelled in the West Indies, with a century in Roseau in his first match, and the 35 year old will be responsible for knitting together the tourists' middle order. Experience of English conditions with Middlesex, form with whom he attributes to his belated test recognition, means he is no stranger to surfaces up and down the country but given how Chris Rogers struggled two years ago with a similar education, his success is not a given.

Mitchell Starc

Mitchell Starc
Starc and Mitchell Johnson provide the left-arm threat for AustraliaGetty Images

Having dominated the World Cup for a victorious Australia with 22 wickets, the Ashes represents Starc's next challenge to conquer. Eleven wickets in three tests as a reserve in 2013 suggest his left-arm pace will disturb a few, but being the element of surprise behind Mitchell Johnson might be his key attribute. England minds have been warped by the harrowing experience down under and though the venomous Johnson returns again, Starc could be the ideal foil.

Odds (William Hill)

Series winner: England 7/2 Australia 4/11 Draw 7/1

Top Australia batsman: Steven Smith 9/4 David Warner 3/1 Michael Clarke 9/2

Top England batsman: Joe Root 9/4 Alastair Cook 7/2 Ian Bell 5/1

Prediction

With the series littered with pitches where a result would be expected, England require the help of inclement conditions if they're to stage an upset. Australia, even without Ryan Harris, have a variable and potent bowling attack more than able to take 20 wickets and a batting line-up who know the conditions well. England 1-3 Australia