There is nothing really like the start of an Ashes series.

Yes, I have heard this over and over again: India Pakistan contests are bigger than the Ashes. That may be because of the infinitely larger number of people who follow that contest passionately.

But the Ashes series has something going for it that no other contest can equal – tradition. As Test cricket’s oldest rivalry – now all of 140 years old - it has an aura of its own even when neither England nor Australia are a particularly strong side or if the Ashes contests are being staged a bit too often these days.

All this is forgotten when the first Test starts and there is an eager anticipation as the match approaches that is palpable.

So it is this time too as the Gabba ground in Brisbane prepares to host the opening encounter of the 2017-18 Ashes series. It matters little that England are being written off as no-hopers and the experts have predicted a lop-sided contest. For one thing there is a lot of excitement as November 23 approaches and secondly England – Australia Tests have always produced high voltage entertainment. As regards pre series predictions they have frequently been wrong and it could be the case this time too.

I for one do not share the doomsday predictions that it will be a tame affair with Australia winning with plenty to spare. Some have even predicted a whitewash probably keeping what happened in 2006-07 and 2013-14 in mind. Against that it must also not be forgotten that England won the series 'Down Under’ in 2010-11 with more than a degree of ease notching up a feat that no English team has achieved in Australia – winning three Tests by an innings.

It should also be remembered that England have won the last four Ashes contests at home. The fact remains that after the world beating Australian team broke up about ten years ago they have been increasingly vulnerable. The fall has been gradual and right now they occupy an unflattering fifth place in the ICC Test rankings whereas England are third.

While playing at home is an advantage a glance at the squads do not show that much disparity for the experts to put down Australia as prohibitive favourites. Both sides have strengths and weaknesses in almost equal measure and I venture to forecast a much closer contest than the pundits have predicted.

It is true that England have not had the kind of preparation required for an Ashes series. The opposition leading up to the Brisbane Test has generally been mediocre even if the visiting batsmen have been among the runs and the bowlers among the wickets. They have also had their share of their injuries and fast bowlers Steve Finn and Jake Ball have already been ruled out.

More to the point however their four main bowlers James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali are very much around. The uncapped 23-year-old Craig Overton has done reasonably well in the limited opportunities on the tour so far and the tour management will hope that he can some good in the Tests too.

The batting certainly can hold their own against the visitors’ line-up. Joe Root, Alistair Cook, Gary Balance, Moeen Ali and Johnny Bairstow have the skill and experience to emerge successful.

Much has been made of the absence of Ben Stokes and how much his not being around will mean to England’s chances of retaining the Ashes. He certainly is a class act and the tourists will certainly miss his ubiquitous skills. But the sooner Root and his men accept the fact that they may have to turn up without him and put the issue behind them the better their chances in the series.

With two clean sweeps in the last three Ashes contests at home the Australian team will fancy their chances. Their recent showing however can make a dent in their confidence though they have players with proven skills and vast experience.

Much is being made already of the amount of damage Mitchell Starc is going to cause along the lines of another left arm pacer Mitchell Johnson in the last Ashes series 'Down Under’ four years ago. The Aussie spearhead is in excellent form as emphasized by the rate feat of a double hat trick in the Sheffield Shield game against Western Australia earlier this month. The Aussie pace attack with Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Jackson Bird around looks pretty formidable with the experienced Nathan Lyon being the lone spin option.

The batting too is quite strong. David Warner can be expected to give a strong start at the top of the order and with the middle order consisting of Steve Smith, Usman Khwaja, Peter Handscomb and the experienced Shaun Marsh the English bowling could experience problems aplenty.

An Ashes contest does not commence on the field; it starts with tall talk off the field. So in the lead-up we have had Ian Botham and Graeme Swann harping on the chinks in the Aussie armour that England can exploit while Ricky Ponting has said that he has never seen a more unsettled England team even while predicting a 4-0 victory for the hosts.

Sledging too is part and parcel of an Ashes series but Root has bravely challenged the Aussies to ''bring it on’’ implying that England will be a match in aggressive behavior. One can only hope that the players do not cross the line for if they concentrate on the game these are two fine sides which can provide a lot of good cricket.