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Ashes 2021-22: England, Australia renew rivalry at Gabba (preview)

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Brisbane, Dec 7 (IANS) In their bid to regain the Ashes, the Joe Root-led England will face Pat Cummins’ Australia in the first match of the five-match series as one of the biggest rivalries in Test cricket resumes, here on Wednesday.

Root’s side is aiming to become the first England team to win down under since 2010-11, while holders Australia, now led by Cummins, need only a draw to retain the urn.

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Notably, both teams have been hit by off-field controversies before the big Ashes series. The England side has become embroiled in the Azeem Rafiq racism scandal while former Australia captain Tim Paine stepped down last month over a historical investigation into sexually explicit texts he sent to a female colleague in 2017.

Both Australia and England, who are ranked third and fourth on the ICC Test rankings, also diverge in many ways. One team barely plays Test cricket while the other might be playing too much.

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Australia have played one four-Test series since January 2020, which they lost at home against India, and have not played overseas since the 2019 Ashes. On the other hand, England are about to play in their fifth series of the calendar year having played six Tests in Sri Lanka and India and six at home against New Zealand and India again but have won just four of those 12.

England announced a 12-member squad on the eve of the Gabba Test and they preferred Ollie Pope to wicket-keeper batter Jonny Bairstow. Earlier, they had announced that their leading wicket-taker in Test cricket, James Anderson, would not feature in the first Ashes Test as part of the pacer’s workload management.

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The visitors, however, will be bolstered by the inclusion of their star all-rounder, Ben Stokes, who last played a Test in March. Since then, he was on a break, working on his mental health. The 30-year-old Stokes, is England’s second-best batter after Root, a wicket-taking threat in all conditions, a superb fielder, and someone who brings invaluable balance and leadership to the side.

“He’s been performing very nicely in the nets, and in that warm-up game he looks fit, he looks strong and he’s hitting the ball well as well” said wicket-keeper batter Jos Buttler on the eve of the game.

“It’s a massive plus for us as a side with Ben being available to play. He brings so much to the team, not just with his skill set, but on the field his character we all know about as well. So to have him back amongst the ranks is a big lift for everyone in the dressing room,” he added.

Meanwhile, it is the beginning of a new era for Australia with Cummins to lead his nation for the first time, becoming the first Australian fast-bowling captain since 1956, and also there will be a new man behind the stumps in Alex Carey.

However, they have the same formidable bowling attack featuring Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, and Nathan Lyon that helped the Aussies win big matches, while David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, and Steven Smith are all set to put their best foot forward in home conditions.

Ahead of the game, Australia have named their XI without much hesitation. Marcus Harris is all set to partner Warner in the opening slots while Carey was named as Paine’s replacement after some deliberation about Josh Inglis. Between Travis Head and Usman Khawaja to bat in the middle-order, the selectors decided to go with the younger man despite Khawaja’s experience and far superior record at the Gabba.

Australia will expect to start strongly at the Gabba, where England have not won since 1986, losing six Tests and drawing two in that time. However, their ‘fortress’ was finally breached in January when India became the first touring side to win at the ground since 1988.

Starting in 1882-83, there have been 71 Ashes series, with Australia winning 33, England winning 32, and six ending in draws. Australia are the current holders of the Ashes, having been the incumbent holders, after drawing the 2019 series 2-2.

Squad:

England: Joe Root (c), Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler (wk), Haseeb Hameed, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood

Australian: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins (c), Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc

–IANS

avn/bsk

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