Bowlers must keep it tight - Small

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James Anderson, Stuart Broad & Steven Finn

Gladstone Small believes the likes of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steven Finn, pictured, will need to work as a unit

Former England seamer Gladstone Small has pinpointed the discipline of the tourists’ bowling attack as a crucial factor as they look to retain the Ashes.

Small, who starred in the last England team to claim victory Down Under in 1986-87, expects this winter’s series to be closely contested, but feels it is imperative that Australia’s batsmen are not allowed to settle.

England’s bowlers have been put under heavy pressure in the early stages of previous trips to the Antipodes and Small is wary of a similar scenario this time around.

However, he also believes the tourists' battery of tall seamers - James Anderson is comfortably the shortest of England's frontline pacemen at six-foot two - could find conditions to their liking.

“It’s a skilful bowling outfit, but they will have tough sessions and when it does get tough they need to have a plan and make sure when they are not taking wickets they are not going for big runs,” Small told ecb.co.uk.

“They are going to have to work as a unit and make sure they don’t let Australia get off to a flier.

“Obviously, (Graeme) Swann is the key. He’s been a superstar in the England team for the last 18 months, two years.

“But the Kookaburra ball could be a factor. It doesn’t drift as much for the off-spinner, so it could come down to the taller guys, the likes of Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett.

“The selectors have obviously picked bowlers who will be able to hit the splice of the bat and if you stop them from scoring quickly then you can get them on the back foot.

“They will get some assistance out there. The hardness of the wickets, the bounce of the ball - you can make that work in your favour.”

Australia’s form has come under the microscope in recent months and their recent 2-0 series defeat in India saw them slip to fifth in the ICC Test rankings.

Mike Gatting & Gladstone Small

Small knows what it is like to taste success on an Ashes tour, having been part of Mike Gatting's victorious England side in 1986-87

Yet Small insists Ricky Ponting’s side remain a formidable force, particularly at home, and has warned England they must play with controlled aggression if they are to triumph.

“I think it’s going to be a tremendously exciting series and I’m really looking forward to it,” he added.

“Obviously Australia have lost their big guns but they are still a very good team and on home soil they are a different outfit to the one that was recently beaten in India.

“Their bowlers are much more effective and their stroke-playing batters like the good Australian wickets.

“I expect them to play aggressively and be as competitive as always and we have to match that.

"Hopefully they (England) get the balance right, they don’t get too carried away with being aggressive and trying to score runs too quickly or trying to get wickets with every ball.

"There are going to be times in the game when they have to sit in and dig deep, bat long for not many runs or bowl a lot of maiden overs.

"It’s going to come down to little passages in play - half an hour in a session where you can’t lose wickets when you are batting or you need to pick up a few wickets when you are bowling.

"It will be the team that wins the most of those small passages of play who will come out on top."

Small is also eager to see how England’s players react to the inevitable criticism that will come their way from the Australian supporters and media.

The victorious 1986-87 side were famously written off ahead of the first Test in Brisbane, but responded in stirring fashion with a host of impressive performances.

“The Pommie-bashing was very much in vogue back then and that’s something that this team is going to have to be tough and wise about,” said Small.

“It’s a tough place to play, not just on the field but off the field as well, you’re copping an earful from the supporters and the only way to stop it is to perform in the middle.

“If you do that, they actually respect you because they are sports-loving people, they just love to beat the Pommies.

“That’s how they play their sport, there’s no such thing in Australia as a social game to be honest - it’s a very competitive environment and if you can front up to them and show them that you’re not going to back down then you will get respect from them.”

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