Sydney - Australia captain Michael Clarke said on Sunday England will be a weaker team without Kevin Pietersen, but still expects a tough Ashes battle in July.
Clarke was speaking before his departure for the Caribbean where Australia play two Tests against the West Indies en route to England for the five-Test Ashes series, starting in Cardiff on July 8.
Pietersen, 34, England's leading all-time run-scorer across all formats, was told by new England director of cricket Andrew Strauss last week that he was "not part of our plans for the summer", saying there was a "massive trust issue" between the England and Wales Cricket Board and the controversial batsman.
Clarke said he had mixed feelings about his long-time Ashes rival's exclusion.
"There's probably two sides for me," Clarke told reporters.
"There's the personal side where I feel for KP because I get on well with him and I'd love to see him back playing cricket for England.
"His form has been outstanding, he's still a great player and I know he wants to play, so I feel for him on that side.
"The other side (is) we go there soon to play against England.
"Any team without Kevin Pietersen in it I don't think is as strong.
"His statistics speak for themselves.
"He's been a wonderful player over a long period of time and he's obviously still in career-best form."
Clarke's views follow those of Australia teammates Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle, who last week voiced their relief that Pietersen will not be playing for England as the Australians bid to end a 14-year Test series drought in the United Kingdom.
Irrespective of the situation with Pietersen, Clarke said he expects Australia will face a difficult England side playing on their home pitches.
"Playing away from home is your greatest challenge as an international sporting team and England will be tough," Clarke said.
"When we get there, no matter what 11 players they put on the field they're going to be really tough (because) they know their conditions well.
"As are West Indies, and it's really important we stay focused this West Indies tour and have some success there."
Australia's first Test against West Indies begins in Dominica on June 3 followed a week later by a second Test in Kingston.