If Andrew Strauss is going to lead England to retaining the Ashes this winter then he is going to have to defeat history as well as Ricky Ponting's Australian side. Of course having regained the Ashes at The Oval last summer, England only have to draw the series to keep the little urn. But this is something they have never done when defending the Ashes in Australia.
Indeed since 1900 (England pretty much dominated the Ashes until then), England have only managed to retain the Ashes four times down under.
Retaining the Ashes
In 1928-29, a star-studded England side ably led by Percy Chapman and containing the likes of Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hammond, Hendren, Larwood, Tate and Jardine overwhelmed an Australian side going through a period of transition (a certain Donald Bradman made his test match bow in this series) by four matches to one.
Then in 1954-55, Len Hutton's England side recovered from a heavy defeat in the first test at Brisbane to win the series 3-1, with Frank 'Typhoon' Tyson propelling them to victory with some fearsome fast bowling. Fast forward over 20 years to 1978-79, where an Australian side decimated by defections to World Series Cricket were hammered 5-1 by Mike Brearley's England.
Finally, in 1986-87, Mike Gatting captained an England side that was tagged as the team that 'can't bat, can't bowl and can't field' before the series to a 2-1 series victory with Chris Broad hitting three hundreds and with Botham and Gower also to the fore.
Since then of course, Australia have dominated, winning the subsequent series' by margins of 3-0, 3-1, 3-1, 4-1 and infamously 5-0 four years ago.
Regaining the Ashes
It's not as if England have been any better at regaining the Ashes on Australian soil. Again, they have only done this four times since 1900. In 1903-04, Pelham Warner's side won an exciting contest by three matches to two. Johnny Douglas repeated the trick eight years later when his England team triumphed 4-1.
After losing to a Bradman inspired Australian side at home in 1930, Douglas Jardine masterminded an immediate return of the little urn into English hands in the 1932/33 series - arguably the most infamous test series of them all. History should remember however that the runs of Hammond, Sutcliffe and Paynter amongst others were just as decisive as the venomous fast bowling of Larwood, Voce and Allen.
The last time that England regained the Ashes down under was in the elongated seven match series of 1970/71 when Raymond Illingworth's side triumphed by two tests to nil in another series marred with bad feeling and controversy.
Can England do it again in 2010/11?
History may be against them but this settled and talented side has the best chance of any England team of the last twenty years of returning to Heathrow Airport with the Ashes in their possession. And one possible omen in Strauss' favour is that Brearley and Gatting, the last two England captains to return triumphant also played county cricket for Middlesex - albeit more often.