So, finally, the talking is over as the Ashes kicks off on Thursday for the first Test of what should be another thrilling battle at Brisbane.
The Gabba is Australia’s cricketing cauldron. They have not lost there since January 1989 and traditionally, thanks to the hostile atmosphere and the home side’s virtually impeccable knowledge of conditions, it has been a place where England have struggled to get off to a good start in the series.
Australia vs England: First Test Preview
And thanks to the comments flown about in recent days, the competition has now spiced up nicely. Nathan Lyon said he hoped to ‘end the careers’ of a few England players. In addition, David Warner spoke out about the absence of Ben Stokes, claiming he ‘let his team down’ by not being available for the first Test at least.
It is perhaps tradition before a home Ashes series for Australians to try and play mind games but England have refused to be drawn into it. Instead, focus is solely on their performances on the pitch and how they will deal with the huge challenge that faces them. And as the tour has gone on, confidence has grown. Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan, two potential weak points for England before the tour, have been impressive so far and the bowling attack, bar a lacklustre final day against the CA XI in Townsville, has been in good order, too.
Australia may not be as settled as most would think but the backbone of their team remains vital. Much depends on the fast and usually consistent starts given by David Warner at the top of the order. Steve Smith and Peter Handscomb provide a solid engine room in the middle order and then there is the bowling attack. Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins both have the ability to bowl 150km/h on their day and Josh Hazelwood’s accuracy is a key asset also.
Australia’s recent confidence has been built upon re-opening the scars set by Mitchell Johnson in 2013/14 and the tactic of pace and hostility is set to be a prominent one again. Yet if England’s batsmen can battle through the early stages and wear Australia’s four-man attack down, then they will give themselves a good chance of posting big totals – a feature so important to any side’s chances ‘down under.’
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England have been searching for an established opening partner for Alastair Cook for what seems like an eternity now but, thanks to the superb form of Stoneman so far on this tour, they may have finally found one. The Surrey opener has hit 85, 61, 51 and 111 in his for warm-up matches and looks in fine form.
Stoneman’s technique looks a solid one, too and if he can continue his form and take the pressure off Cook and Joe Root for big top order runs, it will be invaluable to an England side that have been unable to shake off their top order wobbles in recent years.
During the last Ashes series in Australia, it was Mitchell Johnson who was the catalyst behind demolishing England’s hopes with his fast, hostile deliveries. Now, the home side turn to another Mitchell, Starc, to do the same. Yet despite being a left-armer and capable of bowling similar speeds, Starc is different to Johnson in the sense that he relies more on swing than bounce.
When fit, Starc has been outstanding for his country, earning him many plaudits as the best paceman in the world. He has been unstoppable at times, whether it be in Australia or in less favourable conditions like the subcontinent. He has been his side’s main man. And much will depend on Starc to re-open those 2013/14 wounds and make inroads into England’s top order once again.
Glenn Maxwell has been called up as cover for David Warner, who has a neck complaint. However, it is expected that Warner will play, with debutant Cameron Bancroft partnering him up top. Shaun Marsh returns at number six, with Tim Paine taking the wicket-keeping gloves. Chadd Sayers and Jackson Bird have been left out as expected, leaving a four-man attack of Starc, Hazelwood, Cummins and Lyon.
Jake Ball has been named as the fourth seamer, fending off competition from Craig Overton despite the former’s lack of bowling so far on the tour. In Ben Stokes’ absence, Moeen Ali will bat at number six, with Jonny Bairstow given the responsibility of batting with the tail.
- David Warner
- Cameron Bancroft
- Usman Khawaja
- Steve Smith (c)
- Peter Handscomb
- Shaun Marsh
- Tim Paine (wk)
- Pat Cummins
- Mitchell Starc
- Josh Hazelwood
- Nathan Lyon
- Alastair Cook
- Mark Stoneman
- James Vince
- Joe Root (c)
- Dawid Malan
- Moeen Ali
- Jonny Bairstow (wk)
- Chris Woakes
- Stuart Broad
- Jake Ball
- James Anderson