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  • Australia v England, 1st Test, Brisbane

England favourites to defend Ashes

The Preview by Brydon Coverdale
November 20, 2013
Alastair Cook appeared much more calm than Michael Clarke in the pre-match press conference © Getty Images
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Match facts

November 21-25, Gabba, Brisbane
Start time 1000 (0000 GMT)

Big Picture

Three months ago - is that all? - England stood on a dais at The Oval and were presented with the Ashes urn amid fading light and fireworks. Under normal circumstances, they would have had 18 months to revel in their success before defending the prize, but 2013 is anything but a typical Ashes year. The presence of the World Cup in Australia on next summer's calendar meant a clash with the Ashes, and a rescheduling was required. As a result, Michael Clarke and his men have an almost immediate chance to redeem themselves, and there is a sense of optimism among Australian fans.

It is tempting to view that enthusiasm as misplaced, given Australia's 3-0 loss in England and the yawning gap in experience between the players of both sides. Make no mistake, England should win this series, for they are more settled, more experienced and more familiar with the winning feeling. Yes, Australia were on top in several Tests in England this year, but the fact that they let those winning positions slip is not an encouraging sign. Australia have not won a Test since Michael Hussey's retirement in January, and since the start of the last Australian summer, the only team they have beaten in a Test is Sri Lanka.

That the squad chosen for the Gabba Test was described by many observers as "stable" said more about Australia's shambolic year than anything else. George Bailey is uncapped, Shane Watson is an accidental No.3 due only to his hundred there at The Oval, Mitchell Johnson was not even on the Ashes tour to England, Darren Lehmann has been coach for less than six months. Only four of the XI from last summer's opening Gabba Test against South Africa - Clarke, David Warner, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon - are in this team. Stability is relative.

England are not immune to changes, including the Michael Carberry-Joe Root switch, but it is worth noting that 11 members of their Ashes squad played in their 2010-11 triumph in Australia. The conditions are not so foreign to England as they once might have been. At the Gabba last time, England piled up 1 for 517 in their second innings. In the lead-up to the first Test, Warner said he felt England might fear Australia given the way they played at times in England this year. It's easy to talk the talk, now Australia must walk the walk.

Form guide

England: DWDWW
Australia: DLDLL

Players to watch

For all the talk from within the Australian camp that Mitchell Johnson could win them the series, the fact is that he wouldn't have been part of this team but for injuries to James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and perhaps Jackson Bird. It is true that Johnson made several Indian batsmen jump with his pace and bounce during the recent ODIs and he does seem to be bowling quicker than ever, but sustaining that and maintaining accuracy through five days of a Test match is a vastly different challenge. Australia's best bet is to use Johnson in short, sharp spells.

One of the most encouraging things for England at home this year was that they won the Ashes comfortably without Alastair Cook reaching anything close to his best form. His top score in the series was 62, but his memories of the last series in Australia are exceptionally pleasing - he made three centuries including an unbeaten 235 in the opener at the Gabba. Regardless of the lack of top-class bowling England have faced in their warm-ups, his 154 against Australia A at Bellerive Oval and his 81 in Sydney last week are also positive signs.

Team news

Australia have chosen a 12-man squad, meaning their only decision is whether to include the allrounder James Faulkner as an extra bowling option. Shane Watson is expected to bowl only a small amount if at all due to his troublesome hamstring, which could encourage the selectors to take in an extra bowler, but the more likely scenario is three fast men, one spinner and George Bailey to make his debut at No.6.

Australia (probable) 1 Chris Rogers, 2 David Warner, 3 Shane Watson, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Steven Smith, 6 George Bailey, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Peter Siddle, 10 Ryan Harris, 11 Nathan Lyon.

The main change from the England side that won at home this year is the inclusion of Michael Carberry at the top of the order to open with Alastair Cook, which was also allowed Joe Root to slide down to No.6, the position occupied by Jonny Bairstow for much of the home series. Matt Prior suffered a calf tear during the warm-up match in Hobart and remains in doubt, and Bairstow would keep wicket if Prior is ruled out. The other key decision is on which fast bowler will join James Anderson and Stuart Broad, and Chris Tremlett may have the edge over Boyd Rankin and Steven Finn.

England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Michael Carberry, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Joe Root, 7 Matt Prior / Jonny Bairstow (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 Chris Tremlett, 11 James Anderson.

Pitch and conditions

The Gabba pitch is renowned for offering some pace and movement early, before flattening out for the batsmen, and this year should be no different. The forecast for Thursday is mostly sunny and 30C, but all four remaining days show the chance of a storm and showers. However, the drainage is so good at the Gabba that provided the covers are put on quickly, play can usually resume soon after the weather clears.

Stats and trivia

  • Kevin Pietersen will become the 10th man to reach the milestone of 100 Tests for England

  • Australia have not lost a Test at the Gabba since 1988-89

  • This will be Ryan Harris' first Test match at his adopted home ground

  • Since Richard Hadlee's famous 9 for 52 in 1985-86, the best innings figures by a visiting bowler at the Gabba were Steven Finn's 6 for 125 on the last Ashes tour, but he appears unlikely to play at the venue this time

Quotes

"Australia has a proud record at the Gabba. This is a record we want to enhance … The extra pace and bounce of the Gabba makes for exciting cricket."
Michael Clarke, Australia's captain

"We all know that despite all the hype beforehand, what happens in the lead-up is irrelevant. A lot of words are said, a lot of mind games supposedly happen, but come Thursday morning with the crowd behind them, that's when it counts."
Alastair Cook, the England captain

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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