Australia's cricketers leave Brisbane this weekend for another Ashes defence, brimming with confidence and self belief despite England's recent resurgence.

The Australians have held the Ashes since 1989, tormenting the English for a 1-1/2 decades with their unique blend of cockiness and brilliance, and are overwhelming favourites to win again.

The last time they met, on Australian soil three years ago, the Australians wrapped up victory on the third day of the third test -- just halfway through the series -- but few expect it to be so easy this time.

Under the leadership of Michael Vaughan, the English have assembled a competitive and well balanced side, winning their last four series to climb to No 2 in the world rankings behind Australia.

"This is probably their best chance in a long time (of beating Australia)," Australian legspinner Shane Warne said.

"But then again, we heard that before the last series and the one before that and the one before that."

Warne's confidence is shared by all his teammates although captain Ricky Ponting was slightly more diplomatic in his assessment of England's chances of at least being competitive.

"We've said that about the Ashes before and it hasn't been," Ponting said.

"But I think this England side have a different feel to them.

"If you watch the way they play and how they've gone about their cricket, they have a bit of a winning habit and winning culture which they haven't had for a while."

Australia's confident swagger is not unwarranted. The world champions have demolished everyone in their path for the past decade and conquered their final frontier last year when they won a series in India.

There are no weaknesses in a talent laden side that some already consider to be one of the greatest of all time, alongside Don Bradman's 1948 "Invincibles".

Warne, who has tormented the English more than anyone else since his first trip to England in 1993, is now the greatest wicket-taker in history and Glenn McGrath, perched on 499 test wickets, is also undoubtedly one of the finest pacemen of all time.

Australia's back up bowlers, Jason Gillespie, Michael Kasprowicz and Stuart MacGill, are all proven matchwinners in the test arena while the batting line up reads like a who's who of modern greats.

The two left-handers, Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden, are statistically the greatest opening partnership of all time.

Langer was the leading runscorer in the world last year while Hayden briefly held the world record for the highest individual score of 380.

Ponting's record of nearly 7000 test runs at an average of 56.5 speaks for itself while Damien Martyn, Simon Katich and new batting sensation Michael Clarke all score freely and heavily.

The trump card in Australia's line up is wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist, who possesses the rare ability to single-handedly turn around test matches in a single session.

He is a fine gloveman but his real genius is with the blade. Several teams have succeeded in ripping through Australia's top order only to see Gilchrist ruin all their good work.

He bats at No 7, averages 55 and has 15 test hundreds to his credit, including an unbeaten double century.

New Zealand skipper Stephen Fleming felt the full fury of the Australians this past southern summer and said it was clear they were in a league of their own.

"Every time they play this well it sends tremors around the world," Fleming said.

Australia's selectors resisted the temptation to make any radical changes for the Ashes, choosing a fairly predictable squad although they did break with tradition by choosing two legspinners, Warne and Stuart MacGill, for the first time since 1953.

There were no major surprises in the squad although middle order batsman Darren Lehmann, who served as vice-captain last year, missed out after being dropped in January.

His place was taken by the uncapped Brad Hodge, who toured New Zealand this year.

The only other uncapped players in a 16-man squad overflowing with talent are South Australian paceman Shaun Tait and reserve wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, who was chosen to ease the workload on Gilchrist.

Allrounders Andrew Symonds and Shane Watson were both overlooked for the test squad but made the one-day side. Brad Hogg and Mike Hussey were also included as one-day specialists.

The tour begins with a Twenty20 match against the English at Southampton on June 13 ahead of a triangular one-day tournament including Bangladesh, then a separate one-day series against England.

The five-match Ashes test series starts at Lord's on July 21 with the final test at The Oval due to start on September 8.

- REUTERS