Australia, England gear up for another Ashes battle

England and Australia are all set to renew their traditional cricket rivalry when the two sides face off in the first of the five-match Ashes contest at the Gabba here on Thursday.

Led by new captains in Joe Root and Steven Smith, both sides present largely youthful and uncertain batting orders but potent bowling line-ups.

While Australia can boast of the pace trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins along side the skilful and durable off-spinner Nathan Lyon, England have their two greatest ever wicket-takers in James Anderson and Stuart Broad, but for now at least there is no Ben Stokes, the best performer in an otherwise horrid 2013-14 series.

England, meanwhile will be aware that history is very much against them in their quest to retain the famous urn following their 3-2 win in 2015.

England have won just 23 of the 98 Tests they have played in Australia with the home side winning more than twice as many with 50 victories in all.

Two of the last three Ashes series Down Under have resulted in England being whitewashed 5-0 and the tourists have not won at the Gabba since 1986.

Australia are unbeaten in Brisbane in 28 Tests and as a result of all that, Smith’s men are favourites this time around, too.

Four Australian players — Smith, David Warner, Lyon, Hazlewood, Shaun Marsh and Starc — remain from the team that lost to England in the previous series in 2015 while England have six in former skipper Alastair Cook, Root, Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, Broad and Anderson.

A large part of the outcome of the series will depend on the batting from both sides.

England can look up to Cook’s experience at the top of the order along with the skipper. On his fourth Ashes tour, Cook was dominant in 2010-11 but struggled against higher class bowling on his other two visits and started this one with a first-ball duck in a Perth tour match.

Cook will also need to play the mentor’s role to his opening partner Mark Stoneman, even as the middle order comprising Root, Dawid Malan, Moeen Ali and stumper Bairstow can provide the stability.

Australia, on the other hand, have been struck by injury scares on the eve of the first game with two of their reliable batsmen in vice-captain Warner and Shaun Marsh still nursing their injuries.

Marsh pulled up with a stiff back after training on Wednesday, joining Warner (stiff neck) as a concern for the Aussies heading into the Gabba Test.

Victorian Glenn Maxwell has been brought in to the squad as cover should either of the duo be unable to prove their fitness on match morning.

Although the opening remains uncertain due to Warner’s fitness concerns, the middle order looks stable with the experienced Usman Khawaja coming in at number three, Smith at four and Peter Handscomb at five.

Veteran stumper Tim Paine, who is back in the Test squad after a seven-year wait has the ability to bat along side the lower order.

Renowned as one of the best wickets in Australia, the Gabba track is expected to offer good pace and bounce but with showers and unseasonably cool temperatures forecast during the match, it can be advantageous for the Englishmen.

Australia: David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (Captain), Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine (WK), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.

England: Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Joe Root (Captain), Dawid Malan, Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow (WK), Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson, Jake Ball.

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