First Test preview: Australia v England


The three months since the last Ashes series have passed in a flash, and now it's the rest of the world's turn to set their alarm clocks as the action moves Down Under, to Brisbane in particular, for the first Test at the 'Gabba.

The three months since the last Ashes series have passed in a flash, and now it's the rest of the world's turn to set their alarm clocks as the action moves Down Under, to Brisbane in particular, for the first Test at the 'Gabba.

England go into the series holding the little urn tightly, having retained it for a second time in a row, by a margin of three-nil. They will be confident of winning the Ashes for a record fourth consecutive time, but will have to get past a determined Oz.

The hosts have not lost at the 'Gabba since late 1988, when the West Indies got one over them. They play a Test there once a year at most, and the last time saw them record a draw against South Africa almost exactly a year ago.

All English eyes will be on batsman Kevin Pietersen, who will walk out for his 100th Test cap. He has played a Test in Brisbane twice, top scoring with 92, and will be eager to show his knee is fully healed with a cracking century.

Speaking of injuries, wicketkeeper Matt Prior will face a last-minute decision after picking up a calf injury during a warm-up game. He says he's fine to play, but skipper Alastair Cook said on Wednesday he won't be risked unless he's fully fit.

If Prior does not play, this will hand the gloves to Jonny Bairstow, who will then bat at seven. But if Prior is fit to play, Bairstow is likely to find himself carrying the drinks, with Joe Root dropping to six and Michael Carberry opening the batting.

One spot up for grabs is the third seamer position. Cook long ago confirmed that James Anderson and Stuart Broad will lead the attack, and that Chris Tremlett, Boyd Rankin and Steve Finn would fight for the third and final place.

It is assumed that Tremlett could get the nod this time, given his superior performances in the tour matches (such as they were, thanks to rain). Finn took wickets, but was expensive and his scalps were down to the batsmen chucking their wickets away.

As for the Aussies, they've also had some injuries to keep an eye on. All-rounder Shane Watson picked up a hamstring injury during the recent ODIs against India and has recovered well enough to bat, but whether he bowls remains to be seen. He says he can, but not for long spells.

Skipper Michael Clarke's lower back injury, so troubling for the past year, flared up again and he has been rested from Sheffield Shield games to prevent any further trouble. He did get some time in the middle, so it's a case of keeping a close eye, given his crucial role in the side.

Speaking of skippers, Aussie limited-overs leader George Bailey is set to make his Test debut after a superb run of form in the shorter formats all year. In the ODI series against India he scored a century and three huge half tons in seven games, and thus keeps Phil Hughes out of the side.

One guy not making his debut is veteran Mitchell Johnson, who is set to return to Ashes action after being dropped for the England series. He has been punted by all and sundry in the build-up and labelled the Great Hope, given his renewed pace and enthusiasm.

If he, Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris (provided he stays fit) fire on all cylinders then England's batsmen will have a tricky time, give the Aussies' hunger to get back at their rivals and prove their big talk correct.

Aside from the players' form and injuries, eyes will also be on the Decision Review System and the umpires. Hot Spot has been retained despite the drama in England, while Snicko has been added to the technology, to assist the third umpire.

Formerly dropped Elite umpire Billy Bowden has been added to the panel to take some pressure off the four other umps who qualify to officiate this series, while Tony Hill will be a specialist TV umpire. What all these changes will do the quality remains to be seen.

<b>Key Men</b><br>For the hosts, skipper <b>Michael Clarke</b> will be the big-scorer, given his astonishing record at the ground. With a top score of 259* here, and an average well over 100, he will take the attack to the Three Lions.

England will rely on <b>Kevin Pietersen</b> for their runs, given the enormity of the occasion for him. KP enjoys the spotlight and the pressure, so expect a flurry of boundaries and the smashing of a spinner out of the attack.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><br>2013: Fifth Test: Match drawn at The Oval<br>2013: Fourth Test: England won by 74 runs at Riverside Ground, Chester-le-Street<br>2013: Third Test: Match drawn at Old Trafford, Manchester<br>2013: Second Test: England won by 347 runs at Lord's, London<br>2013: First Test: England won by 14 runs at Trent Bridge, Nottingham

<b>Prediction</b><br>Given Australia's record at the 'Gabba, it would be a bit unkind to predict a defeat off the bat, so we'll hedge out bets and say it will be a draw, just like in 2010. England will bizarrely fail to take all 20 Aussie wickets, with Brad Haddin batting out the overs.

<b>Squads</b><br><i>Australia:</i> Chris Rogers, David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (capt), Steve Smith, George Bailey, Brad Haddin (wk, vice-capt), James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon.

<i>England:</i> Alastair Cook, Matt Prior, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Gary Ballance, Ian Bell, Stuart Broad, Michael Carberry, Steve Finn, Monty Panesar, Kevin Pietersen, Boyd Rankin, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Graeme Swann, Chris Tremlett, Jonathan Trott.

<b>Dates:</b> 21 to 25 November<br><b>Morning session:</b> 10:00-12:00 (00:00-02:00 GMT)<br><b>Afternoon session:</b> 12:40-14:40 (02:40-04:40 GMT)<br><b>Evening session:</b> 15:00-17:00 (05:00-07:00 GMT)<br><b>On-field umpires:</b> Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena<br><b>Third umpire:</b> Marais Erasmus<br><b>Match referee:</b> Jeff Crowe