The Preview by Daniel Brettig
Having played three series within two years from 2013 to 2015, Australia and England resume their rivalry with a pair of vastly recast teams. There are new captains in Steven Smith and Joe Root, a pair of largely youthful and uncertain batting orders, while Australia’s much vaunted bowling attack boasts only one man – the skilful and durable Nathan Lyon – to have played a home Ashes Test before this week. England have their two greatest ever wicket-takers in James Anderson and Stuart Broad, but for now at least there is no Ben Stokes, the best performer in an otherwise horrid 2013-14 series.
Perhaps because of the aforementioned newness, there has been plenty of talk about that encounter in particular. Lacking much in the way of first-hand experience, the Australians have sought to remind themselves as much as England of exactly what happened four years ago, with a hearty slice of intimidatory rhetoric thrown in. By contrast, Root has led his touring party in reminding all and sundry of the fact that few of the visitors went through that experience, which was the exception to recent Ashes history that has seen the Three Lions emerge victorious in four of five series.
At the same time Australia’s formidable record at the Gabba, making the most of its pace and bounce to be unbeaten in Brisbane for 29 years now, serves as a source of comfort to the hosts but also opportunity for the tourists. Alastair Cook, Anderson and Broad can remember how the 2010-11 team escaped Queensland with a fighting draw that also fatigued the Australian bowlers, and the avoidance of defeat in this first match would take on even greater significance given the conditions likely to favour English seam and swing in Adelaide, with its floodlights, pink ball and grassy surface.
Nevertheless, it is Smith who holds the most obvious aces in this series in the shape of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, a trio of contrasting yet highly skilled pace bowlers who possess an array of speeds, angles and approaches the envy of the rest of the world. Australia’s tough talk is built upon a strong belief that these fast men can crack England open at the first time of asking much as Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle did four years ago. Should Root’s men be able to stand up to their examination after seeing nothing like the same pace or bounce in their desultory lead-up matches, this encounter may well run a rather different course.
Australia WLLDL (last five matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Australia’s eagerness to reference 2013-14 will only be relevant if they can find a bowler capable of having the same sort of visceral impact as Mitchell Johnson, and Pat Cummins seems most likely to fit the bill. Should he be used in short, sharp spells by Smith he can be every bit as fast as Johnson, with a steep, rearing trajectory and plenty of venom. However unlike Johnson, Cummins is not entering this series with years of experience behind him – the Gabba will be Cummins’ first ever Test match on home turf. Also intriguing is how behind Cummins and Mitchell Starc, Australia have few other viable options of similar pace following injuries to James Pattinson and Nathan Coulter-Nile.
A key to success in Australia is to take plenty of wickets with the new ball before it becomes appreciably easier to bat, and for England to succeed they will need Alastair Cook to blunt the home side’s pacemen. On his fourth Ashes tour, Cook was dominant in 2010-11 but struggled against higher class bowling on his other two visits and started this one with a first-ball duck in a Perth tour match. Yet freed from the burdens of captaincy and with a deep knowledge of what works in Australia, he has the capacity to set-up England’s innings for the 400 plus totals that will be necessary to dictate terms.
As expected, Australia left out Jackson Bird and Chadd Sayers from their final XI, while Warner is likely to play despite suffering from a neck complaint during training in Brisbane this week although Glenn Maxwell was added as cover. Shaun Marsh had a stiff back as well so Maxwell could come in for either Marsh or Warner. Cameron Bancroft will debut at the top of the order with Shaun Marsh at No. 6, and the wicketkeeper Tim Paine playing his first Test match since 2010.
Australia: 1 Cameron Bancroft, 2 David Warner, 3 Usman Khawaja, 4 Steven Smith (capt), 5 Pete Handscomb, 6 Shaun Marsh, 7 Tim Paine (wk), 8 Mitchell Starc, 9 Pat Cummins, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Josh Hazlewood
Jake Ball was named in the XI as the fourth seamer ahead of Craig Overton*, while Moeen Ali will be seen at No. 6 and Jonny Bairstow at No. 7 with the latter’s ability to bat well with the tail.
England: 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Mark Stoneman, 3 James Vince, 4 Joe Root (capt), 5 Dawid Malan, 6 Moeen Ali, 7 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Jake Ball, 10 Stuart Broad 11 James Anderson
Pitch and conditions
The final pitch prepared by Kevin Mitchell Jnr is likely to offer pace and bounce, generally more so on days two and three than the opening day, before offering cracks and footmarks for the slower bowlers later on. It will have a smattering of grass. Showers are forecast to fall at times throughout the match.
Stats and trivia
Australia have not lost a Test match at the Gabba since 1988, with England not winning there since 1986
England have claimed the Ashes in four of the past five series between the two nations, leaving 2013-14 in Australia as the exception
Four Australian players – Smith, Warner, Lyon, Hazlewood, Marsh and Starc – remain from the team that lost to England in the previous series in 2015. England have six – Cook, Root, Bairstow, Moeen, Broad and Anderson.
Lyon enters the series needing 23 wickets to surpass Craig McDermott and move into sixth on the all-time list of Australian Test wicket-takers
“I think we saw last time England came out here a few blokes struggled with extra bounce in the wicket. Hopefully we can exploit that again.”
“We’re about due to win here. It’s the reason why Australia play the first Test of a series here because they have such a good record here. But what a way to start the series if we can go one up here. It would really upset the apple cart and could give us a lot of momentum.”
*0710GMT The England XI was updated after it was announced on Wednesday.