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The teams England and Australia should pick for first Ashes Test


The Gabba hosts the first Ashes Test between Australia and England (Pictures: Getty)

Drop Mitchell Starc? Leave out one of James Anderson and Stuart Broad? Jonny Bairstow or Ollie Pope? Play a spinner or go all out pace?

England and Australia have faced a number of selection headaches ahead of the first Ashes Test at the Gabba, which starts on Wednesday morning.

For reasons unknown, new Australia captain Pat Cummins named his XI for Brisbane on Sunday, but England are yet to confirm the team that will begin what they hope will be a successful Ashes tour.

England have only won one Ashes series in Australia since 1987, while they have not won a single Test there since 2011, losing 9-0 across the course of the last two series.

Despite Australia’s success at home, they come into this contest undercooked, having played just two Tests in 2021, and with a new skipper following Tim Paine’s resignation.

ENGLAND

Openers: Rory Burns, Haseeb Hameed

Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed’s fledging opening partnership showed encouraging signs last summer, with the pair sharing century stands in successive Tests against India.

The Surrey and Nottinghamshire stars also put on 98 in a warm-up match against England Lions last week before the intra-squad fixture was washed out.

While Burns has gone through difficult patches for England, he is now the team’s established opener, with Hameed and Zak Crawley battling for the other spot at the top of the order.

Haseeb Hameed will feature in his first Ashes series (Picture: Getty)

But Hameed is the man in possession and deserves to start the Ashes, particularly as Crawley has been unable to prove his form in the rained off warm-up games.

With a good short game and an ability to hit through the line, Crawley has been tipped to succeed in Australia since his breakthrough double century against Pakistan in the summer of 2020.

His time in Australia may come – and it could even be during this series – but England should back Burns and Hameed for now.

Batters: Dawid Malan, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (wk)

Dawid Malan batted three in England’s last red-ball match and should retain his place, having scored 70 in his first Test for over three years against India. The 34-year-old scored his sole Test century to date in Australia and is a safe pair of hands at first drop.

Crawley, Ollie Pope, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes are other options at number three but England should resist the temptation to pick a wildcard, at least for the first Test.

Joe Root has been in the form of his life, scoring six centuries in his last 12 Tests, and England will need more of the same to stand a chance of reclaiming the Ashes.

Ben Stokes has returned following his break from the sport (Picture: Getty)

England’s batting line-up will be strengthened by the return of Ben Stokes. It is difficult to know the all-rounder’s physical capabilities following a lengthy break from the sport, and the management must ensure he is in the right frame of mind to compete, but he plays providing those boxes are ticked.

Batting Stokes at No. 3 is an option – Steve Harmison recently told IndiaBetting.co.in that he’d promote the all-rounder – but that feels like an unnecessary gamble at this stage, at least for the first Test.

As well as bolstering the team’s strength with the bat, Stokes’ presence balances the side and gives Root another option with the ball.

At No. 6, England appear to be favouring Bairstow over Pope. While Pope is yet to kick on and turn his talent and hype into consistent runs, this could be a mistake.

The 23-year-old has not scored a century since his sixth Test, back in January 2020, but he looked somewhere near back to his best in his last match, scoring 81 against India at his home ground.

Ollie Pope looks set to miss out in Brisbane (Picture: Getty)

Unlike many of his team-mates, Pope has proved he can score massive runs, with two double centuries to his name in last summer’s County Championship. That ability could help win a Test, or at least contribute to a draw.

With 17 international centuries (11 of them in white-ball cricket), there is no doubt that Bairstow could perform, but he has underperformed in Test cricket and there is a higher ceiling with Pope.

While Jos Buttler has never fully cracked Test cricket, his decision to go to the Ashes despite concerns over coronavirus and quarantine is a big plus.

Bowlers: Chris Woakes, Jack Leach, Ollie Robinson, James Anderson

Stokes’ return gives Jack Leach a great chance of featuring heavily in this series and England should put more faith in their best spinner. Seven Tests since the last Ashes – six of which were in Asia – is a harsh return for a solid if not spectacular bowler.

England may be tempted to play four seamers if conditions suit but that’s almost never a good idea in Australia, and three quicks alongside Leach looks a better attack.

There have been suggestions that James Anderson could be held back for the second Test, a day-nighter in Adelaide, but England cannot afford to go behind in this series, and the 39-year-old should be able to get through two successive Tests after three months off.

Jack Leach has only played seven Tests since the last Ashes (Picture: Getty)

Ollie Robinson has enjoyed a superb start to his Test career – taking 28 wickets at an average of less than 20 – and it will be exciting to see what he can produce Down Under.

He has surpassed Stuart Broad in the pecking order and England could leave their second-leading wicket-taker out altogether in favour of Chris Woakes.

The temptation to play Broad is clear; he is an England great and dominated David Warner in the last Ashes. Woakes’ record in Australia is also poor, with an average of almost 50 from four Tests.

But he is a better bowler since his last Ashes trip and has worked with England hero Darren Gough on becoming more potent in batting-friendly difficult conditions. His ability with the bat is an added bonus.



Ashes odds

Australia: 1/3
Draw: 11/2
England: 9/2

(Odds courtesy of Betfair)

Fast bowler Mark Wood and spinner Dom Bess are also in the squad but the former could probably do with more overs in the legs before he bowls a ball in anger, and the latter is yet to convince he can be trusted as England’s lead spinner after being dropped earlier in the year.

AUSTRALIA

Openers: David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne

David Warner’s struggles in the last Ashes were well documented but the 35-year-old responded with two centuries in the next series against Pakistan, including a stunning treble ton in Adelaide.

The form of any of Australia’s players is hard to judge given the team have played just two Tests this year but Warner at least looked in good nick during the T20 World Cup win and the 35-year-old is not a player you would readily write off.

David Warner was in fine form during the T20 World Cup (Picture: Getty)

With Will Pucovski ruled out of the first Test after suffering from the 10th concussion of his career, Australia have confirmed Marcus Harris will open alongside Warner.

But Harris has endured a difficult start to his Test career – scoring just two fifties in 19 innings at an average of 24 – so promoting Marnus Labuschagne could be a good option.

Labuschagne is one of the best players in the world, averaging 60 since making his debut in the last Ashes, and if you thrive as a No. 3 there’s no reason why you can’t thrive as an opener.

Batters: Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Josh Inglis (wk)

Labuschagne’s promotion would create a spot at first drop for Usman Khawaja. He was battling Travis Head for a place in the team and Head has got the nod, but there is space for both in this side.

Khawaja’s Test career has certainly been turbulent but an average of 40 is more than respectable and his record at home – six hundreds at 52 – is superb. His form in the Sheffield Shield this season – 460 runs at 65.71 – also deserves recognition.



Australia team for first Ashes Test

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

Head has also impressed for his state, averaging 49 and scoring a century in his last match against Queensland, and new captain Cummins believes he is ‘ready to go’ in the Ashes.

The team will bat around modern-day great Steve Smith, who has made 27 centuries in 77 Tests and scored over 700 runs in the last home Ashes series.

Highly-rated all-rounder Cameron Green slots in at No. 6 and has looked in good nick for Western Australia, scoring a century and three fifties.

Alex Carey will replace Paine behind the stumps but Australia legend Shane Warne reckons Josh Inglis should have got the nod and he’s certainly got a case.

All-rounder Cameron Green will slot in at No. 6 (Picture: Getty)

‘Inglis gets my vote,’ Warne said recently. ‘He’s got silky smooth hands behind the stumps, he’s a 360 degree player with the bat and coming off three first class hundreds last season for Western Australia. He’s a great team man who I saw first-hand at the London Spirit this year. He’s 26. Get him in.’

Carey is seen as a safe pair of hands and the next cab off the rank but he made just 153 runs in eight Sheffield Shield innings this season, with single-figure scores in his last five outings.

Bowlers: Pat Cummins (c), Jhye Richardson, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood

Incoming skipper Cummins will need to juggle his new responsibilities with his bowling, but there’s no reason to think the captaincy will effect his performance. The No. 1 Test bowler has taken 164 wickets in 34 matches at an average of 22 and was brilliant in the last Ashes series.

Josh Hazlewood is one of the best seamers in the world and has taken 57 wickets in 13 Ashes Tests, while Nathan Lyon has also enjoyed his fair share of success against England.

While Mitchell Starc has been confirmed as the other bowler in Australia’s attack, Jhye Richardson may be a better option.

New Australia captain Pat Cummins (Picture: Getty)

Starc largely struggled at the T20 World Cup – he went for 0-60 from four overs in the final against New Zealand – and only claimed three wickets at an average of 97 in two Tests at the start of 2021.

Richardson, meanwhile, picked up 15 wickets in his last two Sheffield Shield matches, including eight at the Gabba last month.

Warne has been among those calling for Richardson to play ahead of Starc, and AJ Tye predicted Richardson would play before Australia named their team on Sunday.

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