England legend Charlotte Edwards believes it will be "really, really tough" for her former team to defeat No.1 ranked Australia in this year's women's Ashes.
The fierce rivals will go head to head in the multi-format Ashes – which feature three ODIs, three T20Is and one Test – this July, with Australia currently in possession of the coveted trophy after winning it back on English soil in 2015 and retaining it at home in 2017.
Australia sit on top of both the ICC's ODI and T20I rankings – no rankings system exists for women's Tests – while England are third on the ODI charts and second in T20Is.
Given the traditionally close contests between the old rivals, their current star-studded squads and positions high in the world rankings, a tough Ashes battle should be expected this UK summer.
But after spending the Australian summer working with the Adelaide Strikers in the Rebel WBBL, where Edwards had ample opportunity to assess both Meg Lanning's team and the up-and-coming players in the domestic T20 competition, what she's seen has her convinced it will take something special for Heather Knight's side to win back the Ashes this year, despite holding the home ground advantage.
"They've very strong," former England captain Edwards told the BBC's Test Match Special podcast.
"England, we're going to need everyone fit, we're going to need (Katherine) Brunt firing, need (Anya) Shrubsole firing.
"England can compete and they can beat them, but it's going to be really, really tough for them this summer."
Australia capped off a golden summer with a 3-0 ODI series win against New Zealand earlier this month, the icing on a successful 12-month period that saw them drop just two of 26 matches across both limited-overs formats.
Conversely, England suffered a 2-1 ODI series loss to India in Mumbai earlier this month before bouncing back to take out the T20I series 3-0.
Their cause was hampered by the scheduling of the series – coming at the end of England's winter with their players granted a sole warm-up match in Mumbai before the 50-over series commenced – while Brunt was returning from the back injury which ruled her out of both the T20 World Cup and WBBL|04.
Lanning's team cruised to an eight-wicket victory over England in the final of that T20 World Cup in the West Indies last November and Edwards believes the gap between the traditionally close rivals is beginning to widen as a result of Australia's increased professionalism.
"They've got 102 professional cricketers and we've got 22, so that's where the gap's widening in my opinion," Edwards said.
"We're doing really well, we've got 22 contracted players up at Loughborough but we need more to compete with them over a period of time now.
"Because the strength over there (in Australia) is really in their depth and having been over there, you can see it with your own eyes."
In addition to their 15 nationally contracted, full-time professional international players, Australia's domestic cricketers have achieved semi-professional status across the last two summers through both the 50-over WNCL and the WBBL.
In contrast, England have 22 contracted players but no solid professional domestic structure to support the national team. The 20-over Super League, the UK's answer to the WBBL, provides contracts for its seven-week season, but the same doesn't apply to the County Championship.
It's a situation the England and Wales Cricket Board are seeking to address, after proposing a radical shake-up of their county cricket competition earlier this year.
From 2020, they intend to create between 8-10 "professional" counties, with the remainder of the 35 current counties relegated to feeder status – paving the way towards increased pay and professionalism.
The influence of Australia's full-time status was called out by New Zealand captain Amy Satterthwaite earlier this month, who when summing up the ODI series whitewash remarked: "We need to be realistic ... we're playing a group of professional players and we've got a little bit of work to do back home to ensure we keep up with a group who are able to train and play full-time."
Australia's players are currently enjoying a six-week break after a hectic summer and will regroup in Brisbane for a series of camps before journeying to the UK in late June.
England are currently in Sri Lanka for three ODIs and three T20Is.