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.”

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Aussie Won By a Run

February 16, 2009

Nathan Bracken inspired Australia – and weary Twenty20 bowlers the world over – with a sequence of 10 consecutive dot balls from which New Zealand never fully recovered. A late Brendon McCullum onslaught positioned the visitors for a charge at Australia’s modest 7 for 150, but Bracken bookended the innings with a canny final over that left the tourists stranded a run short.

Bracken became just the second Australian bowler to register a maiden in Twenty20 internationals with his first over to Peter Fulton, then proceeded to tie down the lively McCullum for a further four deliveries before conceding a run. He was later summoned by his captain Brad Haddin to close out the New Zealand innings, and he did not disappoint.

The tourists might have lost by a run, but only did so when Nathan McCullum blasted a four and a six from Bracken’s final two deliveries when the match was all but gone. Prior to those two balls, Bracken had conceded no worse than a single. He finished with figures of 0 for 16; enough to earn the Man-of-the-Match honours.

New Zealand’s run-chase began disastrously, when Martin Guptill – just two days removed from a breathtaking half-century at the Gabba – fell to Peter Siddle (2 for 24) in the first over of the innings. Siddle struck again with the wicket of Fulton in his next over and, combined with precise spells from Bracken and David Hussey, served to restrict the tourists to a steady run-rate through the early-to-middle overs.

The match appeared headed for an insipid finale until the the New Zealanders roared back into the contest by taking 20 from James Hopes’ final over – McCullum proving the chief destroyer. But a suffocating closing spell from Bracken and a bizarre catch to Adam Voges ensured the result fell the way of the hosts.

Voges’ effort to remove the dangerous McCullum (61 from 47) will grace highlight reels for years to come when, in the penultimate over of the match, he claimed the ball at long-on, stumbled towards the boundary, hurled it skywards, tripped over the rope and regathered centimetres from the turf. McCullum remained at the crease to view the replay before eventually accepting his fate.