Australia vs England: First Ashes Test preview and prediction

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    The selections of Australia have been criticised from all angles and England won’t have Ben Stokes or favouritism, but the time for talking is over, because the Ashes have arrived.

    The all-important first Test is set to get underway on Thursday morning at the Gabba. It’s become Australia’s fortress over the years, with England winning just four of 20 Tests there. Further, the hosts have not lost in their last 28 Tests at the venue, drawing seven of those.

    The fortress might come under fire in this series though, with issues aplenty.

    David Warner has made one good score this Sheffield Shield season, in his first innings of the summer, Steve Smith has been inconsistent and Peter Handscomb has made just one half-century and a couple of starts.

    Criticism of Handscomb non-existent though, given Australia handed Shaun Marsh another recall, while Tim Paine was selected to replace Matthew Wade as wicketkeeper.

    The only decent selection was that of Cameron Bancroft, who hit two half-centuries against the Australian attack in a game against NSW, then made a double ton against South Australia.

    That said, he will be under the spotlight, along with the rest of the top order, given the ordinary weather in the lead-up. Normally, a Gabba wicket on the opening morning is difficult to deal with, but extra moisture could make James Anderson and Stuart Broad unplayable.

    England's Stuart Broad and Joe Root appeal unsuccessfully

    (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

    However, Australia can at least take solace in the fact England aren’t showing a great deal of form either.

    Players like David Malan, Gary Ballance, Ben Foakes, Mason Crane, James Vince and Craig Overton don’t have a wealth of experience, which has been brought to a head thanks to the suspension of Stokes. The hope is the all-rounder will arrive later in the tour, but that is pending an investigation by by British police regarding possible assault charges.

    Without Stokes, the pressure falls on skipper Joe Root, keeper Jonny Bairstow and veteran opener Alastair Cook. Runs elsewhere in the order might be hard to find, especially against an local attack brimming with aggression.

    Last series

    First Test: July 8-11, 2015 at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff – England won by 169 runs
    Second Test: July 16-19, 2015 at Lord’s – Australia won by 405 runs
    Third Test: July 29-31, 2015 at Edgbaston, Birmingham – England won by 8 wickets
    Fourth Test: August 6-8, 2015 at Trent Bridge, Nottingham – England won by an innings and 78 runs
    Fifth Test: August 20-23, 2015 at The Oval, London – Australia won by an innings and 46 runs

    Last series in Australia

    First Test: November 21-24, 2013 at the Gabba, Brisbane – Australia won by 381 runs
    Second Test: December 5-9, 2013 at Adelaide Oval – Australia won by 218 runs
    Third Test: December 13-17, 2013 at WACA, Perth – Australia won by 150 runs
    Fourth Test: December 26-29, 2013 at MCG – Australia won by 8 wickets
    Fifth Test: January 3-5, 2014 at SCG – Australia won by 281 runs

    Last five series

    2015 – England 3 defeat Australia 2 in England
    2013-14 – Australia 5 defeat England 0 in Australia
    2013 – England 3 defeat Australia 0 in England
    2010-11 – England 3 defeat Australia 1 in Australia
    2009 – England 2 defeat Australia 1 in England

    Overall record: Played 341, Australia 140, England 108, drawn 93
    Total series: Played 69, Australia 32, England 32, drawn 5
    Series in Australia: Played 34, Australia 18, England 14, drawn 2
    Matches in Australia: Played 162, Australia 82, England 56, drawn 24
    At the Gabba: Played 20, Australia 11, England 4, drawn 5

    Tim Paine and Shaun Marsh. What?
    These selections make no sense, and the pair are going to be under extreme pressure to perform, particularly if others can start churning out runs at domestic level.

    Marsh is on his eighth recall to the Test team. During that time, he has hit just four Test centuries and averages 36 at the highest level. He’s talented but has never been able to live up to his potential.

    His selection is even more baffling when you consider he has made three half-centuries in six Shield innings, he didn’t turn any into centuries, and he leaves the side without a fifth bowling option.

    Paine is an even stranger choice. Not even keeping for Tasmania, he replaces Wade, who was ahead of him at both domestic and international level. Paine is a solid gloveman, and others hadn’t demanded selection, but he only had one round of Shield cricket and hasn’t scored a first-class century for more than a decade.

    If Australia are four down with few runs, I’m not confident in their ability to rescue the situation.

    Australian batsman Shaun Marsh

    (AFP PHOTO / William WEST)

    Can England survive without Ben Stokes?
    Stokes is the tourists’ best player, averaging 36 with the bat and 33 with the ball in his Test career – numbers that are better if you eliminate the first part of his career.

    The 26-year-old is a solid middle-order option who has developed a knack for picking up vital wickets at crucial times.

    He’s not going to be easy to replace, although England have made plans.

    Leg-spinning all-rounder Dawid Malan is likely to step into the middle-order void. He has only played five Tests and struggled for runs, but he averages 37.5 in county cricket. His bowling is nowhere near the quality of Stokes though, which is why it appears Moeen Ali is going to bat at seven.

    England are then likely to add an extra bowler to their attack of Broad, Anderson and Chris Woakes. Whether that be spinner Mason Crane or quick Craig Overton depends on the pitch and whether the selection panel believe Ali can do the job of a first-choice spinner.

    Essentially though, England can’t replace Stokes to the same quality.

    Australia’s opening pair need to set the tone
    With form all over the place in the middle order, a good start from the dangerous Warner and debutant Bancroft are a must.

    If the pair find themselves back in the pavilion early, Smith and Usman Khawaja will need to score big runs against England’s strong point – their fast bowling – as the batsmen following them are in questionable touch.

    This means Bancroft is walking into the biggest cauldron in international cricket for his first Test.

    Of course, the Aussies could also pull a surprise and move Marsh to the top, but it seems unlikely given another keeper has been picked in Paine, allowing the young Western Australian to open and bat where he has been scoring the runs which got him selected.

    Where do England get their runs from?
    Every team on the planet is going to struggle scoring against an attack which reads Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins.

    However, you only have to think back Australia’s last home Ashes – when Mitchell Johnson took a staggering 38 wickets – to know what extreme pace and bounce can do to a fragile English batting order.

    Starc and Cummins have similar pace to Johnson and are genuinely scary. Whether it’s toe-crushing yorkers or bouncers, the pair will be the key, and it’s difficult to see how England will manage them.

    Root might be one of the best batsmen in the world, but without Stokes, he has little support. Former captain Cook has been struggling at international level and has just one score to his name in the warm-up matches, while opening partner Stoneman will have never experienced anything like this tour.

    The same could be said for James Vince and Dawid Malan. Jonny Bairstow has the ability to add runs, as does Moeen Ali, but again, the conditions could wreak havoc.

    England's Joe Root during day four of the the second Investec Test match at Headingley, Leeds. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday August 28, 2017. See PA story CRICKET England. Photo credit should read: Nigel French/PA Wire.

    (Nigel French/PA Wire)

    Is Moeen Ali good enough to succeed in Australian conditions?
    The all-rounder has fast become England’s first-choice spinner, with his ability to add vital lower order runs, but Australian conditions have thwarted many a tweaker.

    New Zealander Mark Craig was the most recent example, but fellow Ali’s compatriot Graeme Swann really stands out, as he racked up figures of 7-568 in the first three Tests at 81.1, then pulled the pin on his Test career.

    What’s more, Swann was a first-choice bowler who made his name taking wickets. If he couldn’t survive in Australia, it’s difficult to see Ali doing so.

    If that’s the case, it makes Nathan Lyon an x-factor for Australia and leaves England down a genuine strike spinning option.

    What happens if the Aussies lose a bowler?
    Touch wood, but Australia’s bowlers are all coming off injuries – Cummins’ struggles are well documented, while Starc and Hazlewood have both recently missed cricket due to injury.

    The way Australia have selected their side means an issue will be magnified if a bowler goes down early in the first Test. Obviously, there are no bowlers in the country who are going to churn out this trio’s results.

    Then there’s the fact that not having a fifth bowling option is dangerous. Incredibly dangerous.

    Innings lengths on Australian soil have been generally getting longer in recent years. Flat wickets, better application of batsmen and games needing to go five days have all led to innings well in excess of 100 overs. Try bowling that with two quicks, Nathan Lyon and some part-time spin from David Warner and Steve Smith.

    Now you get the idea of exactly how bad this situation could be for Australia. It’s a dumb selection to not have a fifth bowling option, even if he wasn’t going to be used.

    Pat Cummins Cricket Australia 2017

    (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

    Key match information

    Dates: Thursday November 23 – Monday November 27
    First ball: 11am (AEDT) – 10am (local)
    Venue: The Gabba, Brisbane, Queensland
    TV: Live, Nine Network
    Online: Cricket Australia live pass
    Radio: Live, ABC Grandstand and Triple M
    Overall record: Played 341, Australia 140, England 108, drawn 93
    In Australia: Played 162, Australia 82, England 56, drawn 24
    Umpires: Aleem Dar and Marais Erasmus

    Likely XIs

    Australia
    1. David Warner (vc)
    2. Cameron Bancroft
    3. Usman Khawaja
    4. Steve Smith (c)
    5. Peter Handscomb
    6. Shaun Marsh
    7. Tim Paine (wk)
    8. Mitchell Starc
    9. Pat Cummins
    10. Josh Hazlewood
    11. Nathan Lyon

    Rest of squad – Jackson Bird, Chadd Sayers

    Australia's David Warner and Steve Smith

    (AFP PHOTO / GREG WOOD)

    England
    1. Alastair Cook
    2. Mark Stoneman
    3. James Vince
    4. Joe Root (c)
    5. Dawid Malan
    6. Jonny Bairstow (wk)
    7. Moeen Ali
    8. Chris Woakes
    9. Stuart Broad
    10. Mason Crane
    11. James Anderson

    Rest of squad – Gary Ballance, Ben Foakes, George Garton, Craig Overton

    Hours of play

    Start (AEDT) Finish (AEDT) Start (local) Finish (local) Duration
    First session 11am 1pm 10am 12 midday Two hours
    Lunch 1pm 1:40pm 12 midday 12:40pm 40 minutes
    Second session 1:40pm 3:40pm 12:40pm 2:40pm Two hours
    Tea 3:40pm 4pm 2:40pm 3pm 40 minutes
    Third session 4pm 6pm 3pm 5pm Two hours

    Note: Sessions may be altered based on match state, weather or over rates. Play may be extended until 6:30pm (AEDT) each day due to over rates or 7pm (AEDT) for weather.

    Remaining series fixtures

    Second Test: Saturday December 2 – Wednesday December 6 at Adelaide Oval – 2:30pm AEDT (D/N)
    Third Test: Thursday December 14 – Monday December 18 at WACA, Perth – 1:30pm AEDT
    Fourth Test: Tuesday December 26 – Saturday December 30 at MCG, Melbourne – 10:30am AEDT
    Fifth Test: Thursday January 4 – Monday January 8 at SCG, Sydney – 10:30am AEDT

    Prediction

    On paper, Australia is the stronger side and are always hard to beat at the Gabba. Add to that, England are inconsistent, struggling for experience with the bat, and unsure about where their runs are going to come from.

    While it’s hard to judge a team on tour matches, England hasn’t been overly strong in taking on a side of virtual no-names rolled out by Cricket Australia. It paints a concerning picture for them on a deck likely to provide plenty for the Aussie quicks.

    Australia to win the first Test comfortably.

    Don’t forget The Roar will carry live coverage of each day’s play during the Ashes as well as highlights.

    Scott Pryde
    Scott Pryde

    One of the mainstays of The Roar, Scott Pryde has written over 1,100 articles covering everything from rugby league to basketball, from tennis to cricket. You can follow him on Twitter @sk_pryde.