There are always nerves and excitement on the eve of an Ashes series, but some actual cricket being played might be sweet relief to Australia and England and their fans alike after a bizarre build-up. There have been both literal clouds and thunderstorms that have hampered both teams’ preparation in Queensland following the T20 World Cup, while the figurative clouds of racism in English cricket and Tim Paine’s resignation have loomed over both teams in the lead-up.
In pure cricketing terms, on paper at least this isn’t quite the mismatch it has been touted in some quarters. These are two middling teams, ranked third and fourth on the ICC Test rankings, but they diverge in many ways. One team barely plays while the other might be playing too much. Australia have played one four-Test series since January 2020, which they lost at home against an understrength India, and have not played overseas since the 2019 Ashes. England, meanwhile, are about to play in their fifth series of the calendar year having played six Tests in Sri Lanka and India and six at home against New Zealand and India again, but have won just four of those 12.
(most recent first)
In the spotlight
England openers have held the key to Ashes success in Australia with Geoff Boycott, Chris Broad and Cook all having extraordinary series to help England win in 1970-71, 1986-87 and 2010-11 respectively while Michael Vaughan carved out three centuries in 2002-03 to help England avoid a series whitewash. Over to you then, Rory Burns. The left-hander proved his mettle against Australia in the 2019 Ashes series with a century at Edgbaston and two other half-centuries in the face of Australia’s pace onslaught. He started last home summer in even better touch against New Zealand but experienced diminishing returns against India, although a 153-ball 61 at Headingley helped England to a series-levelling win. Burns needs more than one hundred in this series if England are to triumph. As Vaughan proved though, even three might not be enough.
Australia have named their XI without much hesitation. Marcus Harris was locked into partner Warner weeks ago while the debate around Mitchell Starc and Jhye Richardson was far more vociferous in public than it was at the selection table with Starc never in any real doubt to miss out. Alex Carey was eventually named as Paine’s replacement after some deliberation about Josh Inglis. The final decision was between Travis Head and Usman Khawaja to bat in the middle-order. The selectors sided with the younger man in spite of Khawaja’s experience and far superior record at the Gabba.
Australia 1 David Warner, 2 Marcus Harris, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Cameron Green, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Pat Cummins (capt), 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Josh Hazlewood
England 1 Rory Burns, 2 Haseeb Hameed, 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Joe Root (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Ollie Pope, 7 Jos Buttler (wk), 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Ollie Robinson, 10 Mark Wood, 11 Stuart Broad/Jack Leach
Pitch and conditions
It has rained in Queensland for what has felt like a month. There has been some respite in the last week but showers and a possible thunderstorms are forecast for the first two days. The pitch had a solid covering of live green grass on it a day out from the match, but Cummins believed it looked like a normal Gabba surface.
Stats and trivia
“The conditions are different to what we get at home, at this venue in particular, with the extra bounce but we’ve prepared the best we can for that. As well as the emotions that surround the first morning of a Test match, if we manage that well we should give a really good account of ourselves.”
Joe Root says managing conditions and emotions at the Gabba will be key
“I think if you look back to the 2017-18 Ashes here in Australia, our batters were incredibly ruthless getting 500-600 runs. I think at the WACA we got close to 700 runs, [we were] incredibly relentless with the bat. So that’s something we’ve spoken about. So it’s a big focus for our batting group this summer. ”
Pat Cummins says Australia’s batters want to go big after failing to make 400 last summer against India.
Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo