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Vaughan tips England for Ashes double
Michael Vaughan, the former England captain who led them in regaining the Ashes eight years ago, believes that the current side have "a great chance" to win back-to-back series against Australia in 2013. England will fine-tune their preparations for the Ashes with home and away series against New Zealand and Vaughan suggested the strength in depth at Alastair Cook's disposal makes them strong favourites against an Australia side in transition.
Vaughan's England beat Australia 2-1 in 2005 for a first Ashes triumph in 18 years. That epic contest came against the likes of Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne but current captain, Michael Clarke, is now the only Australia survivor from the series. Their plans were further disrupted by the retirement of Michael Hussey last month and while there are also questions over the make-up of England's best side, Vaughan feels that Cook has a significant advantage in being able to pick from a pool of "20-22 players that are good enough to play international cricket".
The Tests against Australia will provide the bulk of the England narrative in 2013, alongside an ambition in 50-overs cricket to win the Champions Trophy, and Vaughan said Cook's side were capable of extending their run of Ashes success into a fourth consecutive series.
"This year is all about winning these two big Ashes series," he said. "You've got to look at this year as an England player, and Alastair Cook as captain, and think 'I've got two great chances of winning two Ashes'. You won't get a better chance - you do not get a better chance of beating an Australian side than this. They're decent, they're strong, they've got positivity because Clarke's a very, very good captain and leader. But you look down from one to 11, probably one to 20 with the England side, and think 'I'd fancy that'.
"Look at Australia's top six - Hussey, Ponting gone. That top three is going to be got at, especially in these conditions. Clarke, can he keep playing the way that he's played for the last 12 months? You'd think not. England have got a great chance. In England I'd expect England to win comfortably, in Australia, it'll be tight but England should still win."
While only a single ranking point separates second-placed England and third-placed Australia in Tests, there has been anxiety Down Under about the team's overall strategy. Player rotation has become a key issue in Australia but England's gradual movement towards a squad game has caused less of a ripple. James Anderson and Stuart Broad were rested from the Edgbaston Test against West Indies last summer, while rotation in the limited-overs set-up has become commonplace, as both countries try to marshal their resources ahead of two eagerly anticipated series.
"I think rotation is a must in the modern game," Vaughan said. "I think you've got to very clever with the way that you manage the players to make sure they stay fresh for the big moments, the big series. I think where England are very lucky is that they have such a big pool of players to choose from now - there's probably 20-22 players that are good enough to play international cricket for England.
"If we'd tried to do that six, seven years ago it would have been difficult because you'd have been replacing players and rotating them and bringing players in who weren't necessarily ready to play and then the performance levels would drop. I think that's what's happening with Australia, I don't think they've got a big enough pool of players to be able to rotate but they have to rotate because you want to keep the best players fit for the big series."
Before Australia, England's focus is on New Zealand, with the T20 series starting on Saturday. Although Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Swann have been rested, with Pietersen sitting out the ODIs as well, England will be at full strength again for the three Tests. Nick Compton is likely to resume as Cook's opening partner, with Joe Root the man in possession at No. 6, and Vaughan said that pinning down their favoured batting order for the Ashes will be a priority on a tour that should provide useful challenges.
"New Zealand at home won't be as bad as people think they will be," he said. "I think it will be a series that England will win but New Zealand will put up a fight, they've got one or two decent bowlers. You lose a toss in New Zealand, you can get behind the eight ball quickly, the pitches can do all sorts in those first two or three hours. It's a tour England will certainly fancy winning 3-0, you'd expect, but you can't take any opposition at home lightly."
Yorkshire Tea is now the official brew of England cricket. The Little Urn and the Brew Crew will be entertaining fans during the Yorkshire Tea Break at Investec Test matches this summer - yorkshiretea.co.uk
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo