Unfamiliar, untested line-ups to spice up latest Ashes battleArchive
BRISBANE: New-look Australia will bank on their pace attack terrifying England once again when two unfamiliar line-ups open hostilities for the Ashes, the oldest prize in Test cricket, in Brisbane on Thursday.
Australia’s surprise selections raised plenty of eyebrows but they will hope their pace trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins can replicate Mitchell Johnson’s devastating bowling at the Gabba in 2013.
England also have an untested batting line-up and their campaign to retain the Ashes urn was dealt a major blow when star all-rounder Ben Stokes was suspended pending investigations into a brawl outside a nightclub.
The build-up to the series has been traditionally feisty, with several Australian players reminding the tourists of their treatment by Johnson four years ago.
The firebrand left-armer set the tone for the 2013-14 Ashes with his ferocious fast bowling to take nine wickets at the Gabba as the Australians inflicted a crushing 381-run defeat, triggering a 5-0 series rout.
The Starc-led pace trio have never bowled together in a Test but they stack up favourably with Australia’s greatest pace combinations, with their combined career strike rates better than their gloried predecessors.
Australia have a formidable record at Brisbane’s intimidating ‘Gabbatoir’ where they have not lost a Test match since 1988, and where England are winless in 31 years.
Starc appears key to Australia’s series hopes and he has targeted England’s big two batsmen, captain Joe Root and ex-skipper Alastair Cook, in the five-Test series.
““Both of them are guys we have to focus heavily on in hopefully getting them out cheaply and getting stuck into that inexperienced batting order,” Starc said.
Starc said watching footage of Johnson’s fireworks at the Gabba four years ago had inspired him to replicate his match-winning performance.
“We all still are [inspired]. Whenever you see highlights from that series it was unbelievable,” he said. “How well he bowled and just the aggression and the fear in some of the English eyes, it was always great to watch as a bowler and see batsmen struggle, especially the Poms.”
The pace trio, along with the batting of skipper Steve Smith and David Warner, are seen as Australia’s pillars against a similarly placed England, who will look to Root and Cook and pace attack of James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
England have had a gentle run-in to the Gabba Test with three warm-up games against inexperienced teams, but their Australian coach Trevor Bayliss said they will be ready for what is thrown at them.
“Australia like to hit the opposition hard early and we have been talking about going hard ourselves,” Bayliss said. “An Ashes Test will see our intensity rise as high as it possibly can. We are not here to make up the numbers. We are here to win.”
Former Test captain Ian Chappell says both sides’ batting appears brittle, but Australia will start favourites to reclaim the urn based on the strength of their bowlers.
“Steve Smith’s strike-force is superior to Joe Root’s solid bowling line-up, which lacks the genuine pace that so often leads to success in Australian conditions,” Chappell said.
The ‘Gabbatoir’ has proved impregnable to visiting teams for nearly 30 years, with its willing pitch, stifling weather and hostile crowds adding up to one of the world’s tougher introductions to a Test series.
Only Root, Cook, Broad and Anderson remain from the England team that suffered a 381-run hiding at the Gabba four years ago, when a marauding Johnson took nine wickets and set the tone for the series.
The wrap-around terraces at the bowl-like stadium create an impression of being hemmed in and stifle any breeze that might relieve the players as they labour in the soupy heat of a Brisbane summer.
Four years ago, an ailing Jonathan Trott was dismissed cheaply in both innings amid a barrage of bouncers from Johnson and the Australian quicks. He promptly left the tour with a stress-related illness.
In 2006-07, England fast bowler Steve Harmison famously sent the first delivery of the series to his captain Andrew Flintoff at second slip. England lost the match and the series 5-0.
Another England quick, Simon Jones, also had a first day to forget at the Gabba when he ruptured knee ligaments sliding to retrieve a ball in the outfield in the 2002-03 series.
He was abused by spectators as he lay in agony and the injury ended his series. Nasser Hussain’s team lost the match by 384 runs and the series 4-1.
England have not won at the Gabba since Mike Gatting’s team in the 1986-87 series and it may be no coincidence that the last time they held their own at the Gabba in 2010-11, they went on to win the Ashes.
AUSTRALIA: David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (captain), Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Jackson Bird, Chadd Sayers.
ENGLAND: Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Joe Root (captain), Dawid Malan, Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Craig Overton.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pakistan) and Marais Erasmus (South Africa).
TV umpire: Chris Gaffaney (New Zealand).
Match referee: Richie Richardson (West Indies).
Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2017