With the squad selection done and dusted and attracting a lot of criticism, Australia will be desperate to prove the critics wrong when they take on England in the series-opener at the Gabba from November 23. With no team being touted as clear favourites due to the inexperienced squads and recent form, the first game of the series can turn decide the course of the five-Test series.
History, however, is firmly on the hosts’ side. Australia have not lost a Test at Brisbane since 1988 when the formidable West Indies side led by the talismanic Viv Richards beat them while England have not won a game at the venue considered as Australia’s fortress since 1986. After that win in 1986, England played seven Tests at home out of which they lost 5 and drew the other two.
So while only time will tell whether England would manage to defy the history or not, here we are taking a look at the playing combination with which the hosts can play the first Test to extend their domination at the Gabba.
1. David Warner:
Averaging almost close to 60 in Australia, the southpaw will be key to the hosts’ fortunes in the upcoming series. After a disastrous series of India earlier this year, the 31-year old had scored two fine centuries during the tour of Bangladesh and will be raring to go in the five-match Test series. Irrespective of his form away from home, he always manages to raise the level at home and will be looking to start the series with a bang.
2. Cameron Bancroft:
A surprise pick in the squad ahead of Matt Renshaw, Bancroft will become Warner’s tenth Test opening partner when he makes his debut in Brisbane. After scoring 278 for Gloucestershire against Kent in his final county game, he took the Sheffield Shield by storm, amassing 442 runs in just six innings. Will be looking to continue the red-hot form in his debut match too.
3. Steve Smith:
The best Test batsman in the world at the moment, Steve Smith’s performance can make or break the series for the hosts who will be desperate to regain the urn. Smith has already proved that he is a beast at home and England will have to find a way out to get rid of him early, or they will have to pay a hefty fine. The Australia skipper will be eyeing a strong start to the series in Brisbane.
4. Usman Khawaja:
Another player who loves playing at home, Khawaja averages an incredible 64 in Australia. A natural stroke-maker looked in fine form in the Sheffield Shield and will be looking to replicate that form when he comes at number four for the Aussies in Brisbane.
5. Peter Handscomb:
With just one half-century in six Sheffield Shield knocks, Handscomb, probably the most impressive late-comers in the team, has not warmed-up for the Ashes in style but his dodgy performances in India and Bangladesh are enough to show that he can thrive at the highest level. Is also a good player of the spin and can make life tough for Moeen Ali.
6. Shaun Marsh:
Another surprise pick in the squad, Marsh will be shouldering the responsibility at number six. Marsh, who has been recalled into the Test team for the eighth time, will have to do well in the upcoming series or else it can turn out to be his last. Looked in good form in the Sheffield Shield, scoring three fifties in six innings.
7. Tim Paine:
The most controversial pick in the squad, Paine will be desperate to prove his critics wrong when he dons the baggy green for the first time since playing the Bengaluru Test against India way back in 2010. Scored a fine fifty against England in the warm-up game and will be eyeing an impressive comeback in Brisbane.
8. Pat Cummins:
Such has been his miseries with injuries that he is yet to play a Test at home despite making his debut way back in 2011. However, the injury-prone bowler is looking in good shape right now and could not have asked for his first Test at home. His performance in the testing conditions of India and Bangladesh has already impressed many, and he is desperate to have a go at Joe Root & Co. in the forthcoming series as he has expressed his desire of playing the role that Mitchell Johnson played in the 2013-14 series.
9. Mitchell Starc:
Considered by many as the biggest threat to the visitors, Starc has warmed up for the series in style, picking up back-to-back hat-tricks in the same Sheffield Shield game. If he is dangerous with the new ball, then he is far more lethal with the old one. With the ability to bowl blasting yorkers at will along with reverse swinging deliveries, England will have their task cut out against the express pacer.
10. Josh Hazlewood:
Already hailed by Nathan Lyon as the best pacer in the world right now, Hazlewood can cause a lot of trouble for England with his disciplined bowling. Regarded by many as the modern-day fast bowling version of the legendary Glenn McGrath, the right-arm pacer is the one to look out for.
11. Nathan Lyon:
Lyon must have turned his career around with some sensational spells on the tour of India and Bangladesh but his performance at home last year would be fresh in his mind. His status as Australia’s No.1 spinner was under threat after his average performance in the 3-0 loss in Sri Lanka (16 wickets at 31.93) last year which was followed by a poor outing at home against South Africa (six at 57.66) and Pakistan (11 at 45.63). However, he found his mojo back against India and Bangladesh and will be eyeing to make amends for his horror show at home last year.
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