Australia coach Mickey Arthur says Kevin Pietersen's uncertain playing future leaves a big question mark hanging over England's batting lineup ahead of next year's Ashes series.
Pietersen, who has been dumped from the side for being disloyal, has been a headache for the England board who this week also had to cope with the retirement of test skipper Andrew Strauss.
''England are in a little bit of a transition phase. Do they pick KP or don't they pick KP?,'' Arthur said on Thursday after joining Australia's one-day squad in Abu Dhabi.
''If you take KP and Strauss out of that top six, that's two massive holes they've got to fill.
''So there's going to be questions marks around that, there's going to be question marks around the team.
''But they're well-led and well-coached so they're going to be unbelievably competitive. They're going to be really up.
''My worry is not about England, it's about us. If we prepare properly, we've got our best players in form going into that Ashes series, I think we can beat anybody.''
Australia host South Africa for a three-test series in November.Arthur, who previously coached the Graeme Smith-led South Africans to the No 1 test ranking, gets a sparkle in his eye when the discussion turns to the Proteas.
''The South African series has extra meaning to me. I can't wait for it,'' Arthur says.
South Africa lead the test rankings on 120 with England on 117 and Australia one point behind, following South Africa's 2-0 series triumph in England.
''The side that wins that (Australia-South Africa series) is No 1. We have the ability to take No 1 away from South Africa so I've done a lot of planning on that,'' said Arthur, who arrived a week late for Australia's one-day series in United Arab Emirates so he could work on long-term strategies.
Those plans include Ashes preparations and strategies for next month's Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka.Arthur insists Australia can meet fire with fire against Smith's Proteas.
''South Africa are justifiably No 1,'' Arthur said.
''They believe in themselves. They're a very settled unit.
''But we're a very good test unit. The series is going to be an absolute cracker.''
The Johannesburg-born Arthur says while Smith is a natural leader, Australia's Michael Clarke is also a man who captains with great authority.Clarke's leadership was honoured this week with selection as captain in the ICC test team of the year.
''Leaders are born with an aura,'' Arthur said.
''Michael Clarke has it, Graeme Smith definitely has it.
''They talk, people listen. They walk in the dressing room and people stand back.
''Captain versus captain, it's a really good match-up.''
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