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The Ashes: Australia v England 1st Test preview

The world's foremost series of test cricket has returned to Australian soil, but, unlike many recent editions, it is the hosts with major question marks hanging over their heads. Ben Waterworth previews the opening salvo in Australia's quest to regain the urn.

Australia v England: 1st Ashes Test, begins Thursday 25/11 – 11:00am (AEDST) at The ’Gabba, Brisbane


It’s no longer a secret that Australia isn’t the dominant cricket force it once was four years ago and their inconsistent form over recent months proves that point. The Australian test team has endured mixed results in 2010, managing a 1-1 draw against Pakistan and a 2-0 win over New Zealand earlier this year. They then suffered a disappointing 2-0 away loss to India, despite being on the verge of almost certain victory in the first test.

Conversely, England continues to improve with every game. It managed a 1-1 draw with South Africa earlier in the year, but seems to have improved dramatically since then. The English went on to thrash lowly Bangladesh 2-0 at home then comfortably defeated Pakistan a few months later. More recently, they proved they can be competitive in Australian conditions with a draw against South Australia and solid wins over Western Australia and Australia A in three tour games.

The last four Ashes series have seen the honours evenly split at two apiece. Australia won its two home series in 2002/03 and 2006/07 while England won its two home series in 2005 and 2009.


Who would want to be in Ricky Ponting’s shoes right now? A tremendous amount of pressure has been placed upon the Australian captain over recent weeks as he prepares to carry the weight and expectation of an entire nation. But there will never be a more appropriate time in Ponting’s 16-year career to defy his harshest critics. The 35-year-old must set the tone for the series and counteract England’s strong bowling attack by batting with a positive attitude – a task he has struggled with in recent months. The statistics do prove that the Tasmanian has a strong love for the first test of an Australian summer, averaging 66 from 14 tests at the ’Gabba. Ponting is in great shape from a physical perspective, but it now becomes a mental game for him. He must show a great deal of faith in his own instincts – both as a batsman and as a captain – if he wants his team to succeed over the coming months.

James Anderson had a torrid tour of Australia back in 2006/07. The right-armed paceman played in three out of the five test matches and claimed just five wickets at a terrible average of 82. However Anderson is much more threatening this time around and many now consider him the best swing bowler in the world. The biggest challenge for the 28-year-old is to avoid the temptation to bowl short on the fast ’Gabba wicket. He must bowl a full length and allow for his customary swing away from the right-handed batsmen. If he can force batsmen to play off the front foot, England’s fielders behind the stumps will come into play because the majority of wickets taken at the venue are often catches by the wicketkeeper or slips fieldsmen.


Plenty of rain has fallen in Brisbane over the past few days, meaning a very green pitch will likely greet the players on Thursday morning. But the weather looks like it won’t improve during the test with showers predicted for four out of the five days. The maximum temperature is expected to hover between 25 and 28 degrees for all five days. The humid conditions will be ideal for pace bowling and batsmen will have a tough time dealing with the extra movement both in the air and off the pitch. Both captains should seriously consider bowling first if they win the toss.


Unfortunately for the Australians, there are a few injury concerns amongst some of their players. Vice-captain Michael Clarke is currently hampered by a nagging back injury and has been struggling to train at a high intensity in recent days. If he fails to recover in time for Thursday, Steve Smith is likely to play his third career test match and bat at number six or seven. New South Wales’ Usman Khawaja is also on standby as another option to replace Clarke if necessary. Left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty has also been rewarded for his excellent form at domestic level and will make his test debut ahead of the unlucky Nathan Hauritz. Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus’ spots in the side seem secure, but the third paceman position is still yet to be decided. If fit, Doug Bollinger is the preferred option but Peter Siddle has a solid record against England and is certainly well in contention. Here is how the Australians will likely line up:

  1. Shane Watson
  2. Simon Katich
  3. Ricky Ponting (C)
  4. Michael Clarke/Steve Smith
  5. Michael Hussey
  6. Marcus North
  7. Brad Haddin (WK)
  8. Mitchell Johnson
  9. Xavier Doherty
  10. Ben Hilfenhaus
  11. Doug Bollinger/Peter Siddle

On paper, this England side is one of the best we’ve seen tour Australia for quite some time. Its batting lineup looks very similar to the one that toured here four years ago, but players such as Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell have improved significantly. Add South-African born Jonathon Trott and aggressive wicketkeeper-batsman Matt Prior to that side and you have a gritty middle order. Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Graeme Swann have yet to play a test in Australia, but given their recent form with the ball,there is no reason why they can’t make an impression straight away. Here is how the English will likely line up:

  1. Andrew Strauss (C)
  2. Alistair Cook
  3. Jonathon Trott
  4. Kevin Pietersen
  5. Paul Collingwood
  6. Ian Bell
  7. Matt Prior (WK)
  8. Stuart Broad
  9. Graeme Swann
  10. Steven Finn
  11. James Anderson


It sounds clichéd, but the entire match – possibly the entire series – could be determined within the first hour of the first day. It’s so critical for both sides to begin the match in the best possible fashion and carry that momentum for the rest of the series.

Despite the incredible media scrutiny, Australia will fancy its chances in Brisbane. The Australians haven’t lost a test at the ’Gabba since 1988 and often win very convincingly.

The Aussies need to target Kevin Pietersen and make his time at the crease as difficult as possible. Pietersen has the best average against Australia (50.72) out of any other touring England player, but has really struggled for form over the past 18 months. He has had particular difficulty against left-arm spinners, so Doherty must be brought into the attack as soon as Pietersen arrives at the crease.

However this game will be England’s best chance of winning a test match in Australia. The green ’Gabba pitch will certainly suit the English pacemen – who are renowned for their ability to move the ball through the air – throughout the first few days. But when the pitch starts to dry out over the final few days, Graeme Swann – currently ranked the number one spin bowler in the world – will enjoy the extra turn which will be on offer.

The Poms have enjoyed close to a faultless preparation with three convincing tour game performances. They look prepared both physically and mentally and will enjoy the fact that most of the negative attention has been directed towards the Australians.

Don’t write the Australians off for the whole series just yet, but I think England will use the humid Brisbane conditions to their advantage and take 20 Australian wickets.




James Anderson

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