Cricket pundit Simon Hughes has backed England's players to withstand the intensity of an Ashes series Down Under saying they have grown in stature in the absence of talismanic all-rounder Andrew Flintoff.
Hughes was speaking exclusively to Lords.org during the Marston's Pedigree 'Ashes Banter' event at Lord's.
During a successful last 18 months confidence in the England squad has soared - something Hughes believes has been underlined by Flintoff’s absence.
"Probably a hidden advantage is that they haven’t had Flintoff - who is quite a dominant personality - in the team for a couple of years and they’ve had to come out of themselves as players." said the 50-year-old.
"Certain players like Anderson and Bell, who you feel in the past have perhaps been a bit submissive, will be more assertive this time."
Flintoff last played for England in the final Test of the 2009 Ashes series and officially announced his retirement from the game in September this year.
Despite his heroics in the 2005 series and match-winning effort at Lord's in 2009, Flintoff will also be remembered as England's captain during the humbling 5-0 defeat in Australia four years ago.
"I think a few players will be taken aback by some of the banter and sledging that is likely to take place.
"But the good thing about guys like Steven Finn and Graeme Swann is they give as good as they get so they’re quite confident characters.
"There are not too many shrinking violets in that team."
Hughes, who made his name as 'The Analyst' on Channel 4’s Test coverage, tipped England to narrowly retain the Urn they won in 2009 - adding praise for England’s captain and coach Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower.
The former seamer, who played in four Middlesex County Championship winning sides, noted the apparent respect for England’s hierarchy.
Hughes said: "Strauss himself is a good confident character who doesn’t take fools lightly and tends to brush off the abuse.
"He’s now a veteran of three Ashes series who’s been there before and done the hard yards in a way. He is a very resilient character and I think that transmits itself through the rest of the team.
"There’s also a great deal of respect for Andy Flower among the players and one of the first things he said is that there is nothing to fear in Australia - that is the key message.
He also added his voice to those, including Ashes winner Allan Lamb, applauding England’s thorough preparation for the first Test on November 25 in Brisbane.
"What England need to do is start well, that’s so important. If you suddenly get crushed by Australia in the first Test in Brisbane then it’s a real uphill grind for the players.
"They’ve prepared for it properly this time though, with little things like playing the same team in two warm-up games and maybe sending the bowlers to Brisbane early.
"It’s always been a bit of an Australian trick to send England to Tasmania before Brisbane but this time England have been aware of that and have tried to counter it which is good."
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