The oldest cricket rivalry in the world is set to be renewed as arch-rivals England and Australia prepare to lock horns in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston.
Coming in the backdrop of England’s maiden World Cup triumph, the series is set to bring the focus back to red-ball cricket and marks the beginning of the inaugural World Test Championship.
With two evenly stacked teams on show, the Ashes 2019 promises to be a thriller and the result could come down to the finest of margins.
Here, we look at three key individual battles that could have a large bearing on the fate of the Edgbaston Test.
Roy v Pattinson
It will be only the second Test appearance for Jason Roy with the England opener finally being given the vote of confidence for a red-ball international career. His debut Test knock against Ireland ended on just five but the right-hander was able to make amends in the second innings with a counter-attacking 72.
However, it will be a whole different ball game for Roy against a formidable Aussie pace attack which includes a certain James Pattinson. The fellow 29-year-old has played just 17 Tests for Australia in an international career which started in 2011 after suffering horrible luck with a spat of injuries.
Back in the squad after more than three years out with injury, Pattinson has left Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Peter Siddle behind in the pecking order and is set to partner Pat Cummins with the new-ball.
Pattinson’s talent has never been in question and he can be a monster of a pacer when fully fit. He is bound to give Roy a tough examination at Lord’s and could give the visitors the upper hand with early inroads.
Root v Cummins
With England’s top-order woes refusing to die down any time soon, the important of Joe Root to the side has only increased drastically and the skipper is now set to promote himself to No3 in the order.
It is very likely that Root will find himself early at the crease and the right-hander will have to navigate the threat posed by Australia’s pace spearhead Pat Cummins.
While Root has been one of the top Test batsmen for many years, Cummins has scripted a remarkable comeback since getting over his injuries. The Aussie enters the series as the No1 ranked Test bowler in the world and he will have fond memories of the last time he faced England in the Ashes.
In the 2017-18 series Down Under, Cummins finished as the leading wicket-taker with his 23 scalps leading the hosts’ charge to a 4-0 triumph. His battle against Root could be the most vital one of the upcoming series and whoever comes out on top could hand their respective side a massive advantage.
Anderson v Smith
While Cummins is the No1 ranked bowler, it is England veteran James Anderson who will command the most respect among bowlers from both sides and for good reason.
Having just turned 37 on Tuesday, Anderson is just one spot behind Cummins in the rankings and he has already cemented his legacy as an all-time great after overtaking Glenn McGrath as the leading Test wicket-taker among fast bowlers.
There is no sight as menacing for batsmen than to see Anderson steaming in under overcast English conditions with a Duke ball in hand and the veteran holds the key to England’s hopes with the ball.
While it was Anderson’s battle with Virat Kohli that enthralled spectators in the English summer of last year, it will be the seamer’s tussle with Steve Smith which could be the box-office draw of this series.
Making his Test return after serving his ball-tampering suspension, Smith will be Australia’s linchpin with the bat and dismissing him early will be crucial for the hosts. That won’t be easy, however, with England being the right-hander’s favourite opposition in Test cricket.
With eight Ashes tons and a batting average of more than 56 previously against England, Smith will be keen to establish his credentials as the No1 Test batsman in the world once again.
The International Cricket Council general manager of cricket Geoff Allardice said concussion protocols are now in place to ensure team’s can still compete in the event of concussion related unavailability of players.
Teams are now allowed a like-for-like replacement if a player a ruled out due to a hit to the head.
“Our focus up until this point has been on the treatment of the player and making sure that the right protocols are followed by the medical representatives of each of the teams,” Allardice said.
“But in terms of trying to help them make better decisions around the treatment of players, the introduction of the replacement hopefully means that a team won’t be too disadvantaged if a player is ruled out of a match through concussion.”
Head coach Justin Langer has confirmed that Usman Khawaja will bat at No3 for Australia in the first Ashes Test against England at Edgbaston after the left-hander passed a fitness test.
Khawaja had been recovering from a hamstring strain and the top-order batsman proved his fitness for the first Test by passing a series of tests on Monday.
“Usman Khawaja will definitely be in, he’s fit, ready to go, he’s playing well,” Langer told the media.
“He’s a seasoned pro for us, he averages 40-odd in Test cricket, his hammy’s good, he’s running well, he’s passed all the fitness tests so he’s ready to go. He’ll bat No. 3.”
While Khawaja has been locked in for the No3 spot, fast bowler James Pattinson is also a near certainty to make the playing XI for Thursday. The 29-year-old pacer is now set to make his first Test appearance since February, 2016 after battling a spate of back injuries over the course of his career.
“Just a very, very good bowler,” Langer said about the pacer.
“I’m sure Painey (Tim Paine) will work out ways of using him, it’s just nice to see him back, it’s a great story isn’t it, coming back from where he was as a young bowler, the back surgeries, to more than likely being selected for this Test match, it’s a great story.”
With Pattinson set to partner Pat Cummins for the Edgbaston Test, Justin Langer has revealed that Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Peter Siddle could all be vying for the third pacer’s slot.
“Like in all these selections, there’s literally a case for 17 blokes to play,” Langer said.
“The opening partnership’s going to be really tough, between Cameron and Marcus Harris, really hard.
“They’ve both got a really strong case, and then the fast bowling spots. There’s probably three to be fair, Starcy, Peter Siddle and Josh Hazlewood, for one spot.”
The first Ashes Test between hosts England and Australia at Edgbaston gets underway on August 1.