The Inner Sanctum’s First Ashes Test Preview

The Inner Sanctum's Ashes First Test Preview (Images: Cricket Australia)

The 2021-22 Ashes series between Australia and England is just a matter of hours away and the greatest competition in world Cricket will once dominate television screens of both nations.

The Gabba will once again host the first test of the summer and will see the popular South Australian wicket-keeper, Alex Carey, presented with his baggy green as he replaces departing captain, Tim Paine, in the side.

Head-to-Head

The previous Ashes series saw Australia retain the urn in England for the first time since the 2001 series which will have undoubtedly left a bitter taste in the English camp.

For England and their skipper Joe Root, who has yet to win an Ashes series as captain. Nothing would taste sweeter than winning the Ashes back on Australian soil.

History shows just how incredible this rivalry is, after 71 series’, 31 have been won by Australia, 30 have been won by England, with six unable to decide a winner.

Current ICC rankings have Australia as the third-best test nation in the world whilst England is ranked fourth. With very little separating these two countries at the moment, this series is poised to be memorable.

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Key Players

James Anderson – In what must likely be the 39-year-old’s final Ashes series, there’s absolutely no doubt that England’s greatest ever wicket-taker can still do it on the biggest stage. The fast bowler has taken more wickets in Australia than any other country outside of England, and he’ll be eager to extend his success further this summer. Even at the current stage in his career, James Anderson’s output has not shown any intention of slowing down, currently with 32 wickets in 2021, his highest return since 2018. Anderson will once again be the leader of the English attack and the primary threat for the Australian batters.

Steve Smith & Marnus Labuschagne – Currently second and fourth respectively in the ICC’s male test batter rankings, this pair will lineup third and fourth in Australia’s lineup and could prove to be the catalyst’s to Australia’s success this summer.

Steve Smith has scored 2800 runs against England, that’s over 1000 more than he’s scored against any other individual nation. Since replacing Smith as his concussion sub in the last series, there has been no stopping Marnus Labuschagne’s rise. Pat Cummins’ promotion to captaincy will see Smith in his biggest leadership role of vice-captain since being stripped of the captaincy himself in 2018.

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Now sitting comfortably as one of the best batters in the world and ranked higher than Indian superstar, Virat Kohli, Labuschagne will face England with a far more significant role than ‘concussion sub’ this time round. Five centuries and 10 half-centuries later, Labuschagne now sits with a test average of 60.8 from 18 matches. Capable making breakthroughs with the ball as well, the level of expectation placed on the Queenslander is now at a career-high.

Already seen as tall hurdle’s to jump individually, together, the pair could prove to be too strong of a wall to break down, but nonetheless will be a challenge the England bowlers will be eager to take.

Ben Stokes – The man that still haunts the nightmares of Australian cricketers and fans after his heroics at Headingley in the 2019 series is back amongst the England test squad and sure to be hungry to do bring the urn back to England himself. The heartbeat of the England team, Stokes is perhaps the most exciting cricketer in the world let alone in this series purely based on the level of destruction he can cause with both bat and ball.

Stokes took an ‘indefinite break’ from cricket in March this year to focus on his mental and physical wellbeing, but the opportunity to torment Australia once again was too strong of a pull to keep him away, and became a late addition to the England squad.

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Key Match-up

Pat Cummins vs Joe Root – This could well be the most exciting and most anticipated match-up in Ashes history. When Pat Cummins bowls to Joe Root at the Gabba, it will be the first time in a male Ashes series that both captains will directly face each other as the number one ranked bowler and batter.

Joe Root will be looking to complete his most successful year in his career to date, having already scored 1455 test runs in 2021, just 22 shy of his personal best in a single year. Additionally, Root is averaging 66.13 runs in 2021, his highest yearly average in seven years when he averaged 97.12 in 2014.

Pat Cummins has been the best bowler in the world for some time now and but being named captain has put extra pressure to not only perform but to win. The captaincy feels like it could end up as a major success or failure for Cummins, who is Australia’s first regular bowling captain in more than 50 years.

The narrative of the match-up will extend beyond the first test and remain consistently debated throughout the entire Ashes series. The question in focus is can Pat Cummins break the stigma against bowling captains and lead Australia to a third straight successful Ashes campaign, or will Joe Root finally be able to present the urn to England supporters for the first time as captain?

Player’s to watch

Mitchell Starc – The first test could be a make or break for the rest of the series for Mitchell Starc as pressure from the public continues to build after a disappointing individual performance at the T20 World Cup despite Australia winning the tournament. If Starc fails to have a strong first test, impatience within the Australian fan base could see him replaced with the in-form Jhye Richardson who has impressed selectors with his Sheffield Shield performances, or Michael Neser who has been on the cusp of a Test debut for some time.

Ollie Robinson – Having only just made his debut in June this year, Robinson has exploded onto the international scene and could end up being England’s biggest bowling threat this summer. Since making his debut, Robinson has been the clear standout English bowler in test cricket will want to continue his rise, making his name known on a greater scale on the back of a hopefully successful maiden Ashes series.

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Who’s missing?

Australia: Former fringe squad members in Joe Burns and Matthew Wade have been dropped from the Test squad entirely with Australian selectors putting plenty of faith in Marcus Harris to be the mainstay at the top of the order alongside David Warner for the series. Strong Sheffield Shield performances from Travis Head and Usman Khawaja have also forced their inclusion into the Australian squad at the expense of Burns and Wade.

England: After playing 64 matches from 2014-2021, Moeen Ali retired from test cricket with the ambition of furthering his white-ball career. The bowling all-rounder took 195 wickets and made 2914 runs at an average of 28.29 for England over his test career. Jofra Archer made the decision earlier this year to miss out on the T20 World Cup and the Ashes after getting surgery and focusing on recovering from a troublesome elbow injury.

More Ashes News:

‘It will define my captaincy’: Root eyeing Ashes victory as captain

Marnus Labuschagne: ‘can’t wait for that challenge to face Jimmy’

‘He’s gonna be a really consistent leader for us’: Travis Head backs Cummins in the long run

Predicted XI’s

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

England: Rory Burns, Haseeb Hameed, Dawid Malan, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler (wk), Ollie Robinson, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Jack Leach

The Squads

Australia: Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins (c), Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, Steve Smith (vc), Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner

England: Joe Root (Captain), Ben Stokes, James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood

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