The simplest way of assessing the merits of the two sides before the Ashes is to select a composite eleven, to play in English conditions. It remains to be seen how different it will be come August 24th.
1) Andrew Strauss
Five centuries in his past seven Tests speak of a man in the form of his life.
2) Philip Hughes
A first-class average in excess of 70 almost defies belief. His working over at the hands of Steve Harmison made for very interesting viewing; and it is true that plundering Division Two attacks only says so much. But two hundreds in a Test away to South Africa says rather more.
3) Ricky Ponting
Recent form is decidedly modest - Ponting averages just 36 in his last 11 Tests - but he remains the wicket England will prize above all others, and was phenomeal in 2006/07.
4) Kevin Pietersen
Has not really been at his best for England since losing the captaincy, but his flair and skill is such that he can make Ponting lose control of the game in the field. A third consecutive Ashes averaging more than 50 is expected, though his injury is a concern.
5) Simon Katich
The Australian selectors had decided he could not quite cut it at international level, but some Ramprakash-esque domestic form made them give him another chance, where England's selectors were too stubborn to with Mark. And how they have been vindicated: averaging 53 in the 15 Tests since his comeback, he is now Australia's most reliable batsman. He opens, of course, but could slot in in the middle-order in the side.
6) Matt Prior
Very little separates Prior and Haddin, but Prior's current Test average of 48 - even if it has benefited from feasting on poor West Indian bowling - and improving keeping shade it.
7) Andrew Flintoff
Arguably this place should go to Michael Clarke, but he has never convinced against the swinging ball. So with a certain nostalgia for 2005, Flintoff is in - but he has it all to prove this summer, especially with willow in hand.
8) Mitchell Johnson
Along with Dale Steyn, is simply the best fast bowler in world cricket. How Flintoff would crave his averages of 34 and 28 - which put Johnson into genuine all-rounder territory and, incidentally, are identical to Ian Botham's final career averages.
9) Graeme Swann
England's great find of the past few months, his ebullient batting and aggressive, varied off-spin could have a big part to play in this series. MR SK Warne's assertion than Nathan Hauritz (first-class average 47, four-fers three and five-fers precisely none) is a superior bowler is risible. Unless he is keeping his doosra well hidden from view.
10) Peter Siddle
It's pretty hard to ignore Stuart Broad but for all his rapid improvement he still avaerges 38 with the ball. Then there is Peter Siddle, an wholehearted Aussie seamer from the Merv Hughes school. He can look ordinary, but deceptively quick, he averages just 25 in the two series against South Africa. Underestimate him at your peril.
11) James Anderson
Perhaps the second best new-ball bowler in world cricket behind Steyn, Anderson's growing control nad increased mastery over swing with the new and old ball has been a joy to behold.
So it's pretty evenly matched. England have six players in the XI; Australia have five, though it could so easily have been the opposite had Haddin edged in (or had Flintoff been unavailable for selection, as he surely will at some point this series). And in Johnson they have probably the best Test cricketer in the world of the past twelve months.
What's striking is the relatively weak middle-orders of both sides, as Katich slotting in as an emergency number five illustrates. Michael Hussey has endured a miserable few months, while doubts over Paul Collingwood seem perennial. Michael Clarke had an encouraging Aussie winter but is still yet to truly fulfill his potential, while Marcus North's early-tour form has been terrible. So it may be that the batting strength of both sides lies in the top four, with weaknesses in the middle-order and a real possibility for same late-order tail-wagging from the likes of Haddin, Prior, Johnson, Broad, Swann and Lee.
So what does that tell us? The 2009 Ashes will be worth watching.