Melbourne: Former Australian skipper and cricket commentator Ian Chappell believes that England could start next year"s Ashes series on home soil as favourites.
Chappell said despite England"s 2005 series victory, not since 1989 had an Australian side looked so vulnerable ahead of a tour to Britain.
“Don"t get your knickers in a knot, I haven"t forgotten 2005 but that was a bolt from the blue; this time England could easily be favourites going into the Ashes series," Chappell wrote in a column for British daily The Telegraph.
He said the reasons for Australian concerns were exposed as South Africa embarked on their surprise fight back victory in the first Test in Perth.
“When Australia lost for the second season in a row at fortress WACA, it became clear that the retirements of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath really had hit hard," he said.
Australia have lost their grip on the second Test in Melbourne and may have lost paceman Brett Lee to a foot injury for the rest of the season as South Africa recovered from 8-251 to make 459 in reply to the home side"s 394 on day three.
Chappell also highlighted problems at the top of Australia"s batting order - namely opener Matthew Hayden"s inability to pull himself out of a form slump, the Daily Telegraph reported.
“Matthew Hayden is Australia"s other problem area and not even a large Boxing Day crowd was able to will him to a much-needed success. Hayden"s presence in good form would exacerbate one of the England selectors" headaches: What to do with Steve Harmison?" Chappell said.
“Harmison doesn"t react well to opening batsmen who attack him ... Australia would be hoping an in-form Hayden is their antidote to the dangers the lanky fast bowler can pose," he said.
Chappell ended with a word of warning for the England team, however.
“The Australian team led by a determined Ricky Ponting has shown why they can never be written off but there are cracks showing in their armoury," he said.
“Kevin Pietersen"s team will never have a better opportunity to wrest back the Ashes but they won"t want to let down their guard," Chappell added.