The Ashes: First Test Preview

Batsman faces bowler in front of packed cordon

We preview the first Test of the 2017/18 Ashes series set to get underway on Thursday 23 November at the Gabba. 

Months of pre-series talk will quickly have to turn into meaningful walk, as one of cricket's old rivalries resumes in Australia on Thursday.

South Africans happy to wake up in the wee hours of the morning will be the first to witness what has always yielded a great battle, regardless of current form and hype.

Australia v England | 23 November - 27 November | The Gabba, Brisbane | 02:00

To Win Match
Australia 72/100 | Draw 35/1 | England 28/10

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Having taken the hefty risk of picking Tim Paine ahead of Matt Renshaw, the Aussies will hope to have answered two selection conundrums: the opening batsman and wicketkeeping berths. Paine is the man backed to sort both out, but really needs to step up in the runs department. The odd mistake behind the stumps will go relatively unnoticed, but low scores certainly won't.

Peter Handscomb was among a few current players to publicly express disappointment in open criticism from a couple of former stars. Handscomb is the the face of the new school - and rightly outspoken too. He, like others, need to back up words with a strong performance on the field, though. If Paine doesn't succeed, Handscomb must.

There will be a big reliance on Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, alongside Nathan Lyon. There is great balance in the attack, with the the spinner set to complement the three seamers. England will probably look to attack Lyon - and might see a chink in the seamers' collective armour if Cummins' body is unable to withstand the rigours of taxing Test match cricket.

The Australians have not lost a Test at the Gabba since 1988. England have won here only four times - in 20 attempts - in the longest form of the international game. The tourists will face hostility on the field from the players - and as much off it from spectators. They, indeed, have plenty of work cut out for them, even if they have the Barmy Army in support.

Steven Smith's presence, of course, will be instrumental. As captain and best batsman, Smith is shouldering plenty of responsibility. A big score or two might see him tuck into a truly prolific series, but a couple of single-figure efforts could equally challenge his mental game. He will know what will need doing - and must wisely grapple with how to go about it.

Jake Ball will be available for selection after all. The fast bowler was in a race against time amid a lengthy recovery from injury - and is a welcome boost in the absence of Steven Finn. A solid foil to James Anderson and Stuart Broad, Ball will be confronted with some career-defining challenges - and some spells that will make or break it.

England's all-rounders, meanwhile, must deliver their best. If Chris Woakes manages to crack the nod for the series opener, then he'll quickly be labelled the answer to the absence of Ben Stokes. Moeen Ali, too, has to come the party with bat and ball - in conditions that aren't going to prove very conducive to the latter.

England's ability - substantial or lacking - to swing the Kookaburra ball will be intriguing. Entirely used to zipping the Duke counterpart all over the place, Anderson and company are faced with a tough test. The warm-up matches helped, but the true contest will pan out on Thursday and beyond. Ball and company have a lot of learning to do.

As attacking as they might want to be with the bat, Root and team-mates must be mindful of keeping the Australians in the field for long periods of time. The English batsmen, therefore, can afford to be measured and patient in their approach. Extra time on their feet for Cummins and Starc, in particular, might spell the need for them to be rotated for the next match.

The old adage of 'catches win matches' couldn't be truer here. Dawid Malan and James Vince seem to have settled in at third slip and gully, respectively, and those areas can expect a lot of traffic, thick and fast from plenty of edges in Brisbane. David Warner, for one, isn't the type of player to not capitalise on a second chance.

Verdict: Australia 72/100
The key lies in the bowling department and its ability to take 20 wickets. Starc and crew will likely get the better of an under-prepared English order struggling to come to terms with playing away from home

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Written by Jonhenry Wilson for Hollywoodbets

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