Edgbaston gives hosts the edge as Australia and England prepare for Ashes series opener

Ashish Peter 31/07/2019
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England captain Joe Root and Australia skipper Tim Paine.

After a summer that has been dominated by the 2019 ICC World Cup, attention finally shifts to red-ball cricket as England and Australia prepare for the five-match Ashes series opener at Edgbaston.

Edgbaston was the venue where England thrashed Australia in the recent semi-final of the World Cup and the visitors will be determined to make amends for that loss as they start the defence of their Ashes urn.

Thursday’s Test will kick-start the 71st edition of the oldest rivalry in cricket while also simultaneously ushering in the inaugural ICC World Test Championship.

Daunting task for Aussies

It will be the first time ever that England enter an Ashes series against their arch-rivals as world champions and they will be further emboldened by their formidable track record at Edgbaston.

The hosts have now won 11 matches on the bounce across all formats at the venue with their semi-final win over the Aussies in the World Cup being the latest of them. In fact, England have not been beaten in their previous eight Test appearances at Birmingham with their last defeat coming against South Africa all the way back in 2008.

Meanwhile, the Aussies have a dismal record at the venue with their last victory at Edgbaston coming in a Test in 2001. That was the last time Australia captured an Ashes series on English soil and they have sine lost nine matches and drawn one across all formats at the ground.

Starc set to miss out for Australia

While Australia skipper Tim Paine has refused to name his playing XI for the Test before the toss, it looks like Mitchell Starc will miss out.

No1 ranked Test bowler Pat Cummins is set to lead the attack while fellow pacer James Pattinson has been confirmed for the Edgbaston Test as well barring a late injury mishap.

As such, Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Peter Siddle are vying for the one slot among themselves. Starc was excellent in the World Cup where he finished as the highest wicket-taker for the second edition in a row but the express pacer generally takes his time to transition to red-ball cricket.

Paine has stated that Australia will continue to rotate their pacers over the course of the five-match series and Starc should feature sooner rather than later. However, it could be one of Hazlewood or Siddle who takes the third pacer’s slot on Thursday for the visitors with Nathan Lyon set to operate as the sole spinner.

Starc could miss out to Hazlewood or Siddle for the third pacer's slot.

Starc could miss out to Hazlewood or Siddle for the third pacer’s slot.

Archer’s Ashes debut on hold

Jofra Archer’s Ashes debut will have to wait with the Barbados-born pacer not included in England’s playing XI for Edgbaston. Instead, it is Chris Woakes who has been given the nod by England’s selectors with pace spearhead James Anderson deemed fit to play as well.

“Jofra is coming back from a serious injury,” Root stated on the eve of the first Test.

“We looked at the conditions and went with what we thought was best to take 20 wickets here. It always gives him the chance to get 100 per cent fit. That will be monitored throughout the week.”

Young pacer Olly Stones too will have to wait for his Ashes debut with Stuart Broad set to partner Anderson and Woakes in the pace department while Moeen Ali has been given the nod as the team’s sole spinner.

TEAMS

England XI: Jason Roy, Rory Burns, Joe Root (c), Joe Denly, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler (wk), Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, James Anderson.

Australia likely XI: David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, Tim Paine, Nathan Lyon, Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Josh Hazlewood/Peter Siddle.

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Ashes 2019 predictions: Winners, top performers and surprise packages

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Hands up who missed cricket? It’s been nearly an entire week since Ireland were skittled at Lord’s, with nothing to fill the void the 10 days prior to that once the World Cup closed shop.

Luckily, the Ashes are here to end that veritable famine and to take you all the way up to early September. Below, we try and predict which players will burn the brightest in the chase for the famous urn …

CHRIS BAILEY

Winners: England – There are no better operators of a Dukes ball than Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad – it might be their last ride together at home Ashes – and Chris Woakes is in the form of his life. Batting, smatting.

Top run-scorer: It just had to be one of the disgraced three, doesn’t it? Steve Smith didn’t look particularly comfortable in a World Cup setting, but swap the ball for a red one and you’ll find he has a first-class average of more than 61.

Top wicket-taker: Stuart Broad – He will be well-rested given that he doesn’t even play limited-overs games for Nottinghamshire and there have been no other Tests this summer. Can he better his 8-15? (Well, one can dream).

Surprise package: There will be a clarion call for a new England opener at some point, and Warwickshire’s Dom Sibley surprises us all by not throwing his wicket away. Scored 74 against Australia A last month.

Steve Smith.

Steve Smith.

AJIT VIJAYKUMAR

Winners: Australia – England’s batting is fragile; they have been bowled out for double digit scores three times within one year. Australia look settled all the way down. Plus, have an advantage when it comes to spin in the form of Nathan Lyon, so should take it 3-2 unless hit by injuries.

Top run-scorer: Joe Root – Not enough cricket followers give Root credit for switching from one format to the other effortlessly and then churn out runs. Plus a move up to No3 means he will dictate the flow of the innings more often than not.

Top wicket-taker: Pat Cummins – He is the No1 Test bowler in the world. He does not move the ball a mile but is a master of doing just enough at top pace to get wickets. Is at the peak of his game and one of the few who can make things happen even on dead surfaces.

Surprise package: Jason Roy – Has been picked because he has the ability to change the game in a session, at least on paper. Expect the swashbuckling opener to tear into the Aussie attack somewhere down the line. Hopefully, he won’t be asked to play conservatively.

Joe Root.

Joe Root.

ASHISH PETER

Winners: England – The hosts might not exude a lot of confidence from their top-order but home advantage should tilt things in their favour in what could be a roller-coaster of a series. A 3-2 scoreline could be on the cards.

Top run-scorer: Joe Root – The England skipper was in fine nick in the World Cup and his class should be able to set him apart in the Ashes where low totals could be a common theme. He will face stiff competition from Steve Smith, however.

Top wicket-taker: Pat Cummins – The Aussie pacer finished as the highest wicket-taker in the 2017-18 Ashes Down Under with 23 scalps and should be able to repeat those exploits after ascending to No1 in the Test rankings.  James Anderson, meanwhile, has a cloud hanging over his fitness.

Surprise package: James Pattinson – The 29-year-old is set to play in his first Test in more than three years after battling injuries and he could emerge as Australia’s chief wicket-taking threat if he can remain fit for the entire series.

James Pattinson.

James Pattinson.

BRENDON NETTO

Winners: England – There’s a batting issue that the hosts will have to address and they may fall victim to a World Cup hangover as well. May be close but expect them to get the job done. 3-2.

Top run-scorer: Joe Root – If anyone’s going to remain focused, it’s Root. Thrives in the longest format and has shown initiative, promoting himself to No3. Steve Smith may run him close though.

Top wicket-taker: Mitchell Starc – looked dangerous during the World Cup and conditions should suit him. James Anderson may not be 100 per cent for all five Tests while it’s Jofra Archer’s first taste of Test cricket.

Surprise package: Matthew Wade – Given Tim Paine is captain, his inclusion in the XI itself would be a surprise. He’s been in stunning form with the bat though and given the chance, could thrive without the responsibility of keeping wickets.

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Ashes 2019: Redemption the running theme for Australia and England whether they like it or not

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England captain Joe Root and Australia skipper Tim Paine.

It’s is difficult to feel excited about any cricket at the moment given how draining the 2019 World Cup turned out to be for players and fans.

But barely two weeks after the emotional high of the Lord’s final between England and New Zealand, here we are investing our time once again. It’s the Ashes and the start of the new Test Championship, so it deserves our attention and care.

The Test Championship was introduced to bring context to every bilateral series. Earlier, teams would play Tests for the match itself and the points accumulated would count towards the annual rankings. That’s it.

But now every bilateral series carries 120 points and the top teams after the two-year cycle will compete in a final to decide an actual champion. No more dull games and, more importantly, fans will ultimately follow other series as it can have an impact on their team’s standing.

The Ashes never needed context. Even without the Test Championship, the 2019 clash had a lot riding on it with redemption been the underlying theme.

Both teams have a point to prove, right wrongs of the past. For Australia, it will all be about the ball-tampering scandal of 2018 even if they end up winning this series. The three players involved in ‘sandpapergate’ in South Africa have reunited and in fact will form the top order for the Aussies in Edgbaston.

Captain Tim Paine knows the protagonists of that infamous episode – David Warner, Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft – are going to get hounded no matter what they do and the only way Australia can deflect some of the criticism and negativity is by playing and winning fair and square. Even that might not be enough for many but it’s much better than getting pilloried by the public and getting whipped on the field as well.

More than anything, it is important for Australian cricket to do well – as they did in the World Cup – and show the world and public back home that it is time to put the ball-tampering scandal behind them once and for all.

England have an even bigger headache as it relates to their own game. England focused all their energies on becoming a 50-over superpower over the last four years and that meant their Test cricket had to go to bed hungry on many nights. The less said about some of their Test caps over the last four years, the better.

It should come as no surprise that as England rose to the top of the ODI table, they were also shot out for double-digit scores on three separate occasions within the past year – against New Zealand, West Indies and Ireland. England’s Test batting has been brutally exposed for the best part of a season and a half and they need to get their act together now that the 50-over mission has been accomplished.

Also, veteran seamers James Anderson and Stuart Broad won’t be around for more than a season or two, so the future needs to be mapped out just the way the World Cup mission was.

Both teams have made mistakes – albeit of completely different nature. What they do over the next five Tests will show if they are ready to put all that in the past and move to a more positive state of mind.

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