George Bailey put his personal Ashes dreams to one side and warned England: It will be closer than you think.
Hampshire’s overseas player failed to break into the Australia squad for the five-Test series when it was announced recently.
The Tasmanian batsman was hoping early runs in the County Championship at the Ageas Bowl would put him in the frame.
But despite hitting 96 on debut against Leicestershire, the 30-year-old did not manage to turn the selectors’ heads and has not quite fired on all cylinders since.
While Australia’s t20 captain is disappointed on a personal level, he is still looking forward to the series.
And contrary to the predictions of many England fans, he is not expecting a one-sided contest when battle commences at Trent Bridge on Wednesday, July 10.
‘England are deservedly favourites to retain the Ashes – as they should be,’ said Bailey, who led his state to Sheffield Shield glory earlier this year.
‘They have been really consistent.
‘Most importantly, they have a very consistent squad and have been able to put out basically the same team for a number of years.
‘And that plays a huge part, giving you some stability in and around the changing room and in the way you play.
‘That has been Australia’s issue – getting the same XI out on the park – along with losing Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey.
‘It’s not only their experience in terms of playing the game but what they bring to the team off the field, in their planning, preparation and all those things.
‘They are wonderful team men and are hard to replace.
‘I would like to think it will be a close series, though.
‘You always talk about two teams playing their best.
‘And I certainly think if Australia play as well as they can it will be closer than most of the English maybe think it will be.
‘We have a young but pretty exciting pace attack and, if the conditions suit, I think they can certainly do some damage.’
Despite Bailey’s absence from the squad, Australia will once again have a familiar feel for south coast cricket fans.
Three former Hampshire players are in the party – Shane Watson, Phil Hughes and Michael Clarke – with the latter leading the side after racking up the runs in a stunning year on the international circuit.
Meanwhile, ex-South Wilts opening batsman Chris Rogers was also rewarded with a call-up.
‘Michael Clarke has obviously had a wonderful 12 months of Test cricket,’ added Bailey.
‘Whether he can maintain that to the same level, we will see.
‘But we have seen Eddie Cowan and David Warner playing a fair bit of cricket together and they are getting a nice little partnership going at the top.
‘Phil Hughes is a really good player and hopefully he will get an opportunity over here.
‘And I think Shane Watson is a great player with plenty of experience in English conditions, too.
‘So there is the crux there, a core of a really strong side.
‘It is just a matter of them being able to put it together for a long enough period.’
Bailey has settled in quickly at Hampshire, helping them to an impressive start – although, their form has tailed off in the past two Championship fixtures.
But he remains an integral part of Australia’s limited-overs ambitions and is likely to face England in a t20 and an ODI at the Ageas Bowl on August 29 and September 16 respectively.
And after a rocky spell for his national side – featuring mixed results and dressing room disharmony – he is ready for some friendly banter from home fans.
‘I’m expecting a little bit of stick, so I’m ready for that,’ he said.
‘There are no issues with that, especially with the summer in prospect.
‘But once again one of the motivations for coming over was knowing the Ashes series is on.
‘There are some huge challenges facing Australian cricket in the next six months to two years.
‘Some really tough series are coming up – starting right here.’