Australia's downward spiral
There are a number of ways of looking at Australia's poor form entering the Ashes, but the over-riding impression is clear.
If England, who have prepared fastidiously for this tour and have the confidence of an early warm-up win behind them, do not win on Australian soil this time, then one will have to wonder if they ever will again.
International cricket has changed immeasurably since Mike Gatting's team won 2-1 in 1986-87, and in that time England have toured Australia five times and have come back empty-handed five times.
Never on those five trips did they face an Australian side which appeared anything other than extremely formidable opponents. This time, by contrast, they will face a side short of self-belief who have slumped to fifth in the Test rankings.
When Australia were outplayed from start to finish in the second one-day international against Sri Lanka at Sydney last Friday, Ricky Ponting did his best not to look shell-shocked.
It was the seventh consecutive reverse suffered by the Aussies across all formats, a run that began at Headingley in July in a Test match against Pakistan, and has taken in an energy-sapping, confidence-draining tour of India.
Ponting has already lost two series as Australia's captain in England (AP)
Australia did at least prevent a whitewash to Sri Lanka, with a convincing win in the dead rubber at Brisbane on Sunday, so a few optimists will feel that they have stopped the rot.
Other, more realistic observers will feel they've merely splashed a tin of paint over the walls of the house while the foundations start sinking into the mud.
The most troubling issue is the selection of the squad to take on Andrew Strauss's men in the first Test at Brisbane, which starts on 25 November.
The players are due to be picked next Monday, and the party would traditionally feature 13 names. This time, uncertainty over the form and fitness of key players suggests there will be two extra men included.
Among the pace bowlers, Doug Bollinger damaged stomach muscles in India and will not be able to prove his fitness in a match until New South Wales's Sheffield Shield match on 17 November.
Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris are two other possibles just coming back from injuries, while Mitchell Johnson is 100% fit but bowling loosely.
Johnson's wayward spell on the first day of the Lord's Test in the 2009 Ashes was a contributory factor in Australia's defeat in that game. He is capable of winning matches, however, and will play grade cricket for Wanneroo in Perth this weekend in a bid to get some confidence.
Nathan Hauritz seems certain to line up as the spinner, though he is another player looking well short of peak form, and then there is the batting to consider.
Mike Hussey, who achieved a Bradman-esque average of 91.60 in the 2006-07 Ashes, is a real worry. In his last 13 Test innings, his highest scores are 67 and 56 not out.
Marcus North may have chalked up two centuries this calendar year in Tests, but his average is poor, and scores of 19 and 1 against England for Western Australia will not have eased the selectors' concerns in any way.
Two batsmen, Callum Ferguson and Usman Khawaja, plus the fast bowler Peter George are being touted as genuine candidates for Brisbane. Yet they are virtually unknown to English fans, have just one Test cap between them and would not ordinarily be thrown into such a key series with so little international experience.
Australia need Mitchell Johnson (centre left) to find his form (Getty)
Former opening batsman Michael Slater, who Test Match Special fans can look forward to hearing from this winter, has attacked what he perceived as an overly conservative approach from the selectors in recent times.
"Selectors have sat on their hands and done nothing to improve the situation," he said.
"It's beyond a joke. How can you justify sticking with a losing side? There have been plenty of opportunities to blood new talent in that middle order."
Many Australian cricket fans, a normally bullish breed, appear to be losing hope. In one online survey, 56% said they believed England would triumph.
Professional gamblers, on the other hand, see it very differently. On betting exchanges, where fans bet against each other rather than with bookmakers, Australia remain odds-on favourites with England around 2-1.
And one of the major factors is history, the very ingredient that makes the Ashes the special series it is.
England have only won 20 Tests in Australia since the Second World War, and their three most recent wins, in 1995, 1998 and 2003, came when Australia had already done enough to retain the urn.
Thus the most recent "live" Ashes success for England away from home is the Boxing Day Test of 1986, when Ian Botham, Gladstone Small and Chris Broad starred.
Whether it's the conditions, the raucous support for the home team, or the reputations of the players they have squared up against, there have been some exceptionally timid performances from England in Australia since 1986-87.
Australian fans can also be cheered by the knowledge that their current team features players with very similar career records to England's, while in Ponting they have one of the best and most prolific batsmen of modern times.
Moreover, if batting is a worry for Australia, is it not more of a worry for England, who have only one batsman (Jonathan Trott) in the world top 20, compared to Australia's three - Ponting, Simon Katich and Michael Clarke?
Those are just a few sobering thoughts for English fans to consider as they plan their trip down under... All in all, it could be a cracker.