Australia’s bid to win the Ashes in England for the first time since 2001 begins on Thursday evening (AEST) with a difficult challenge at a troublesome ground.
Australia’s record at Edgbaston is poor to say the least, without victory in its past 15 matches at the Birmingham-based venue, and it will face an England side fresh off World Cup glory.
England was given a major scare by Ireland last week, though, and that performance and the instability of the side’s top order will give Justin Langer’s men hope.
Key to Australia’s Ashes hopes will be negating the impact of England veterans Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, who have more than 1000 Test wickets between them and are particularly damaging on home soil.
A series dominated by ball rather than bat seems likely, heaping further pressure on Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft.
The trio all appear set to play at Edgbaston and will be desperate for runs in their returns to Test cricket following the ball-tampering saga.
Steve Waugh, the last Australian captain to win an Ashes series in England, is working with the current crop as a mentor and has urged them to “make a name for themselves” over the next two months.
Who is playing?
Bancroft appears to set replace Marcus Harris at the top of Australia’s order, while the in-form Matthew Wade could play as a specialist batsman after hitting 1021 Sheffield Shield runs last season and impressing in a series of warm-up matches.
James Pattinson last played a Test in 2016 but the quick will play, with left-armer Mitchell Starc likely to be saved for future Tests.
Starc underwent knee scans last week but is not in any major injury doubt for the series.
England’s openers have played just eight Tests between them and will be targeted by Australia.
England’s best batsman Joe Root will go up to No.3 to provide a buffer between the pair and the equally as inexperienced Joe Denly.
Likely Australia XI: David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (c), Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon
Likely England XI: Rory Burns, Jason Roy, Joe Root (c), Joe Denly, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes or Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson
What reception will ‘The Sandpaper Three’ get?
A very negative one.
Edgbaston is perhaps the noisiest cricket ground in England and the Eric Hollies Stand will be in full voice about the trio’s misdemeanours, make no mistake.
The Barmy Army have been crafting songs ever since the Cape Town drama and any booing and chanting will be much, much louder than it was at the World Cup, where many matches were attended by neutral fans.
“I think they’d be wrong not to prepare and expect, certainly the Birmingham, Old Trafford and Headingley crowds, to be quite lively,” Broad said.
On the topic, Bancroft said: “It doesn’t faze me … people will react how they want to react. Hopefully I can use it – if people want to be like that – to give you energy to perform well.”
This Test marks the start of the ICC’s new World Test Championship, comprising of 72 Test matches – in 27 different series – over a two-year period.
The nine top-ranked teams (India, New Zealand, South Africa, England, Australia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Indies, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe) will each play six Test series over the two years, three at home and three away.
At the completion of this period, the top two nations will play each other in a World Test Championship final in the UK in June 2021.
Concussion substitutes are also in play, too, with teams now allowed to replace a player who suffers a concussion during a Test as long as the replacement is ‘like-for-like’ and ratified by the match official.
What do the stats suggest?
Of the 14 Ashes Tests held at Edgbaston, Australia has won just three, compared to England’s six.
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) July 31, 2019
Will it rain?
It is England in the summer, so your answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.
Scattered showers are predicted throughout the Test, with day three, four and five being the worst hit. Keep an eye on the radar.
How can I follow the Test?
Don’t be fooled by last summer’s TV rights change as the Nine Network have the rights for the Ashes.
Coverage begins at 7.30pm (AEST) on each night of play and will be shared between Nine’s main channel and GEM.
Essentially, if it’s not on one, it will be on the other, with tennis legend Todd Woodbridge hosting and Ian Healy, Mark Taylor, Lisa Sthalekar and Mel Jones also contributing.
Commentary will come from England’s Sky Sports, featuring the likes of Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting and a host of English voices.
You can also stream the cricket on 9Now and watch on any device.
ABC Radio will broadcast audio coverage and, of course, your morning newsletter from The New Daily will provide a full wrap from each day’s play.