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The Ashes: First Test preview

THE Ashes are finally here. Cricket’s oldest and biggest rivalry is set to thunder back to life at the Gabba on Wednesday, with Australia entering the five-Test series as red-hot favourites against England. 

England last won Down Under in 2010-11, with the previous series win before that being 1986-87. The first Test is even more lopsided in the favour of the hosts, with England holding an abysmal record at the Gabba, having won just four of 21 Tests they have played in the Queensland capital. 

They come into this series somewhat on the ropes too, their batting not shining and an ageing bowling attack expected to produce magic during an Australian summer – something they have only done once in the last 25 years. 

The weather may play into England’s hands for the first Test though. Brisbane has been hit by a deluge of rain, which suspended or heavily impacted both team’s warm-up games. It means that, with the T20 World Cup limiting or outright stopping many of the Australian players from taking part in the Sheffield Shield, a large chunk of the host squad hasn’t played a red ball game competitively since the end of the series against India last summer. 

That will play into England’s hands, however, a typically bouncy deck which takes swing will only serve to help Australia’s lightning attack, who simply love bowling in Brisbane, and on a pitch which has been helped by the weather, there could be some dangerous bowling from the likes of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. 

Again though, it’s difficult to get a read on their form line given the lack of red ball cricket. 

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing though, because no form line is better than the one England’s leading four bowlers – James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ollie Robinson and Jack Leach – produced against the England Lions in the only day of action when they failed to take a wicket between them in almost 50 overs. 

England’s bowlers – outside of allrounder Ben Stokes – not taking a single wicket against what is essentially England’s second-string outfit in potentially similar conditions to what they will see at the Gabba does not bode well for what is to come. 

Australia’s batting line-up has questions around it, namely Marcus Harris at the top of the order, Travis Head at five, and Cameron Green at six, while Alex Carey will also make his Test debut with the gloves at seven. 

However, three of the world’s best batsmen are likely to tip the opening Test of the series in the favour of the Aussies, unless the English bowlers can get it right, and get it right consistently. David Warner, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne have Test averages of 48, 61 and 60 respectively, and have all looked solid in recent times. 

Warner in particular found his form again on the international stage at the T20 World Cup, and at his devastating best, can take a Test away in a single session, while Smith and Labuschagne are the best top order in world cricket. 

Joe Root might be on the other side of the coin, but England’s batting has been a let down in recent times, and at any rate, it won’t matter unless their bowlers can find a way to take wickets, something just about every team seems to struggle with in one way or another in Australia, and more so at the Gabba, which suits Australia down to the ground. 

In short, it’s incredibly difficult to see Australia doing anything other than going 1-0 up here, and probably in convincing fashion. 

 Our best bet: Australia win $1.89 at PlayUp


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