The first Test of the northern hemisphere summer’s Ashes series begins later today in Cardiff. Australia holds the iconic urn at present, having whitewashed England 5-0 last time the series was played in Australia in 2013/14.
This year’s series shapes as being much more competitive, with questions hovering around what many perceive to be an ageing Australian squad facing a resurgent England, who have fought back strongly in all forms of the game after a disastrous World Cup campaign.
Six of the likely starting XI for Australia are over the age of 33, with another old warhorse, Ryan Harris, retiring before the start of the series due to a chronic knee problem. Josh Hazlewood’s stellar series against West Indies and the continued progress of Mitchell Starc will have the Aussie camp confident of moving seamlessly into the post-Harris era, however.
Opener Chris Rogers and maligned all-rounder Shane Watson look set to win selection ahead of Shaun Marsh and his brother Mitch respectively – but their places are far from secure if they underperform in the Welsh capital.
There has been a whisper Australia, coming off a 2-0 mismatch in their Test series in the West Indies, may take four quicks into the Test on a grassy Sophia Gardens wicket, but it would be a big call to omit in-form spinner Nathan Lyon in favour of stalwart Peter Siddle.
The tourists’ penchant for sledging has gobbled up much of the pre-series attention, and the antics of firebrands David Warner, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson will come under the microscope – particularly after the hammering the triumphant ODI side came under for their boorish behaviour in the World Cup final thrashing of New Zealand.
Alistair Cook’s men, who drew with West Indies away and New Zealand at home in recent series, will look to extend their home dominance over their historic rivals. England have won the last three Ashes series at home, a run stretching back to the famous tour of 2005, during a period which has seen Australia manage a meagre two wins in 15 Test matches on British soil.
Joe Root, who boasts a Test average of 54.11, all-rounder Ben Stokes, wicketkeeper Jos Butler, and rejuvenated veterans Cook and Stuart Broad will lead the home side’s charge after strong performances in the thrilling series against the Black Caps.