ONE of the oldest rivalries in professional sport begins again at midnight as England battles Australia in The Ashes.
Observer sports editor Rob George takes a look at what is in store Down Under over the next six weeks.
EXACTLY 11 years ago today, we were celebrating England taking the lead in an Ashes series for the first time in nearly 25 years in what proved to be a series to remember as Sir Andrew Strauss’s men dished out a 3-1 series win over the old enemy.
Fast forward and cricket’s ever increasing schedule, together with Covid lurking as an ever present in the background, means this cricket’s oldest rivalry will be fought out with five tests in six weeks.
Both teams head to the Gabba tonight utterly unprepared, again due to cricket’s love of the white ball version of the game but also bad weather Down Under which has forced England’s practice games to be severely curtailed.
Throw into the mix that England will be taking to the field at the Gabba where they have not won since 1986, losing six Tests and drawing two in that time and you’d think Joe Root’s men are facing a pasting.
But Australia come into the series with very little form for their batsmen and bowlers, and turmoil behind the scenes which has led to the departure of Tim Paine as skipper.
Pace bowler Pat Cummins replaces him as the leader of those in Baggy Green and that should be England’s first target. Make him bowl, bowl and bowl.
Cricket is littered with stories of all-rounders and captains who feel obliged to keep taking the ball, can this raw skipper be tempted to do the same.
Australia’s openers had a torrid time in England last time out and England ought to focus on David Warner’s flaws outside off stump as a source of encouragement.
The XI who take the field for their country tonight must be strong, Australia’s tactic is clear in an Ashes battle, beat the Poms well at the Gabba and pile the pressure on for the rest of the series.
England’s run-filled performance in 2010/11 secured a draw and a sense the pressure only ramped up on the hosts, pressure they ultimately buckled under.
With the ‘king of swing’ James Anderson seemingly being held back until the day/night test in Adelaide and the forecast looking decidedly average in Brisbane over the next five days, a draw here could tilt the odds in England’s favour once again.
What will happen over the next six weeks is anyone guess. Leave Brisbane 0-0 and England will be buoyed, leave with a big defeat and it could be a long six weeks in the Aussie sun.
My heart says England, my head says Australia. What do you think?
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