As always, there has been a lot of noise in the build-up to this series; a lot of Australian noise. The Gabba is where the steam will be let off and England will be hoping for a strong start, more 2010 than 2006 or 2013.
The Australian motivational technique of trash talking usually works for them at home. Out there somewhere, Glenn McGrath will be telling anyone who’ll listen that it’ll be 5-0 to the Aussies. Two of the last three Ashes series on Australian soil have ended in that score line, too.
Part of that reason is the feted ‘Gabbatoir’. Put simply, Australia don’t lose here. England’s most recent win here was in 1986. Australia’s most recent defeat here was to the West Indies in 1988. And that West Indies side was rather tasty.
It’s the closest thing to guaranteeing a solid start that Australia have. Yet, if England can avoid defeat, as they did in 2010, it could underpin a solid series for the visitors.
The problem is, there isn’t much cause for optimism. The side that memorably racked up 517/1 to secure a draw here in 2010 featured a top three of Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott. There is no such luxury for England this time, as Cook is partnered by Mark Stoneman with James Vince, a gamble of a selection at best, arriving at the crease first drop.
This is the Gabba’s 60th Test. Australia have won here 30 times and lost on only eight occasions. This pitch looks set to be a classic Gabba strip, too. It should have pace and carry, perfect for Australia’s three-pronged pace attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.
England’s likely seam attack of James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Jake Ball/Craig Overton doesn’t possess the same venom as the hosts.
Combine that with a brittle batting line up – Cook and skipper, Joe Root have to fire here – and all signs point to first blood Australia.
This is cricket’s equivalent of being thrown into the Lion’s den and England are going in empty handed.
Dave Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins
Warner has been suffering from a stiff neck but wild horses couldn’t drag him away from this one. There is no batting cover in the squad (only Jackson Bird and Chad Sayers are in reserve, both bowlers) so it would be a rough start for Australia should Warner be unfit to play. Sayers has been selected with one eye on the second Test in Adelaide, a ground he knows well.
Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Joe Root, Dawid Malan, Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Jake Ball/Craig Overton
England have already played their batting hand in the warm-up fixtures and the only question hangs over who will take the fourth seam bowling slot – Ball or Overton? Overton is fancied as the better batsman, although he hasn’t shown it so far on tour, and Ball suffered a sprained ankle, but he looks the more likely to start here.
Australia will really fancy their chances here and know that they need a positive result with a day/night Test lurking in Adelaide. That’s England’s golden opportunity, so landing the first blow is imperative for the hosts.
Australia’s bowling attack looks a lot more suited to conditions here, too. They only have four bowlers to England’s five, but their pace attack is sharper pace-wise and three sharp tools look better than four blunt ones.
If that sounds harsh on England, then the Kookaburra ball will not be to their advantage and they will struggle to find swing and seam movement, the tools that make them so potent at home with the Dukes ball.
Australia should win this Test and win it quite comfortably. The flat, faster surface suits their batsmen and is more to the liking of their bowlers. Add to that the weight of history and the fact that England’s batting line-up appears ill equipped to bat out for a draw and there’s only one logical conclusion to reach.
By Miles Reucroft