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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 March, 2005, 17:19 GMT 18:19 UK
If the Ashes were tomorrow ...
The first Ashes Test between England and Australia starts on 21 July.

But if that were tomorrow, who would have the edge?

BBC Sport runs the rule over the possible XIs, and rates the players against each other.

CAPTAINS
Michael Vaughan
One of the lone positives on England's last Ashes tour was the performance of Vaughan, who hit 633 runs at an average of 63.30.

Twenty-four of his 55 caps have now come as captain but he has managed just four of his 13 centuries since taking over from Nasser Hussain.

Ricky Ponting
He took time to adjust to the captaincy but smashed 100 off 104 balls against New Zealand in his final Test before the Ashes to emphasise his recovery.

Despite his previous lack of experience at the helm, Australia have lost none of their attacking bite since the Steve Waugh era.

Advantage: Ponting

OPENING BATSMEN
Marcus Trescothick
Innings of 132 and 180 against South Africa showed Banger at his best.

But Australia believe they have his number after Glenn McGrath exposed a technical deficiency last time around.

Matthew Hayden
It is six months since Hayden reached three figures in a Test.

Against New Zealand and Pakistan this season the usualy dominant left-hander has made a habit of squandering starts.

Advantage: Trescothick


Andrew Strauss
Among active players only Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar have higher averages than Strauss, who had made 1246 runs in 12 Tests by the end of the South Africa series.

Australia will hope Langer, his former captain at Middlesex, knows something no Test player so far has: how to get Strauss out cheaply.

Justin Langer
Langer has never looked back since becoming an opener during his last Ashes tour.

The left-hander enjoyed the purplest of patches at the end of last year when he followed his 215 and 46 against New Zealand with 191 and 97 against Pakistan.

Advantage: Too close to call

MIDDLE-ORDER BATSMEN

Kevin Pietersen
The Pietersen bandwagon is rolling with more and more momentum. Averaging 139.50 at a run a ball after 11 one-day internationals he is likely to get a chance against Bangladesh.

Until he proves himself, though, he cannot get the nod above an established Test batsman.

Damien Martyn
The stylish Martyn cemented his Test place with two centuries in the 2001 Ashes series

This season, centuries in the first and second Tests against Pakistan nudged his batting average over 50, and he followed up with a dominating 165 on arrival in New Zealand.

Advantage: Martyn


Graham Thorpe
Turning 36 before the second Test, Thorpe is determined he has one Ashes series left in him.

He appeared short of form in South Africa but still managed an unbeaten 118 in Durban and a vital 86 in the final Test.

Michael Clarke
Clarke scored centuries on his Test debut in India and his first Test on foreign soil, against New Zealand.

But since then he struggled to maintain that consistency, and conditions in New Zealand could well be mirrored in England.

Advantage: Thorpe

NUMBER SIX

Andrew Flintoff
If the Ashes were tomorrow, Flintoff would be unavailable, although he is making steady progress in his recovery from ankle surgery.

England's hopes of winning the series rest on Flintoff and, with his record of being slow to recover, fans will not breathe easy until he proves he is fit.

Simon Katich
Having made his Test debut at Headingley during the 2001 Ashes, Katich drifted away from the Test fringes until improving his bowling.

Katich is no more than a part-time spinner, filling the gap vacated by Darren Lehmann. But he stepped up with a century in the opening Test of the New Zealand tour and is likely to stick around.

Advantage: Katich, until Flintoff is passed fit

WICKET-KEEPERS

Geraint Jones
Jones' selection was motivated by England's desire to have a Gilchrist of their very own, and he has fulfilled that in places.

South Africa proved a tough tour, though, as his attacking batting came off only once, with 73 in Durban, and his glove-work was suspect.

Adam Gilchrist
At the end of the last Ashes series in England, the hosts still had a question-mark next to Gilchrist's name on their list of how to dismiss batsmen.

Has he mellowed since? After 749 runs in the last eight Tests at an average of 107 that would be a no.

Advantage: Gilchrist

SPIN BOWLERS

Ashley Giles
In 2003, a TV viewer emailed the studio to ask "What is the point of Ashley Giles?" In 2004, Giles proved his point with 38 wickets in 12 Tests and much improved batting.

Against an aggressive Australian side, though, his left-arm spin is likely to be used to tie up an end rather than as an attacking option.

Shane Warne
If the Ashes were a year ago, Warne would be unavailable, serving a 12-month ban after testing positive for an illegal substance.

But the break has done him no end of good with his 85 wickets in 15 Tests since returning putting him well ahead as Test cricket's most successful bowler ever.

Advantage: Warne

PACE BOWLERS

Matthew Hoggard
Days do not get much better than Matthew Hoggard's in Johannesburg, when he ran through the South African order for a magnificent 7-61.

When there is swing on offer, Hoggard is a match-winner but he is still working on his consistency when conditions are not in his favour.

Glenn McGrath
Australia's most successful pace bowler ever was being written off a year ago as he struggled with a back injury.

But his date of birth - he turned 35 in February - counted for little this winter as he took 45 wickets to go into the first Test needing one more for the magical 500.

Advantage: McGrath


Steve Harmison
England are confident a return to the UK will see Harmison back in the form that saw him ranked number one in the world.

His recent displays, though, gave little hint of the paceman who terrorised West Indies a year ago. He took nine wickets in South Africa at an average of 73.22.

Jason Gillespie
Australia's other opening bowler has also been below his best form this season, with 22 wickets in eight Tests against New Zealand and Pakistan.

Crucially, though, he has kept his economy rate well under three runs per over, while Harmison was up at 3.45.

Advantage: Gillespie


Simon Jones
Jones the Steam has not displayed express speed since injuring his knee in the opening match of the last Ashes tour.

A useful exponent of reverse swing, he can struggle when the conditions are not in his favour, but with 15 wickets in South Africa he proved fine support.

Michael Kasprowicz
Glamorgan last season had to choose between Jones, who had been discharged from the Test squad, and their overseas star. Jones stayed in the pavilion.

Kasprowicz' strong domestic form saw him recalled to the Test side last March and his 47 wickets since have kept him above Brett Lee in the pecking order.

Advantage: Kasprowicz

OVERALL

Australia win 8-2 on direct player comparisons. 1 tie.

England will get a final chance to experiment and fine-tune during their two-Test series against Bangladesh in May and June.

After a lengthy home season, Australia have three months off before starting their England tour with the one-day Natest Series.

Player for player, the Aussies remain stronger than England.

But there is still plenty of time for everything to change.




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