England v Australia, 1st npower Test, Cardiff July 7, 2009

Test of character for both teams

Match facts

Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Start time 11.00am (10.00 GMT)

The Big Picture

England's turn to host the Ashes always results in an extended build-up and after 31 months the talk stops on Wednesday and a pair of teams with many fresh faces continue a 122-year rivalry. Both sides have changed line-ups considerably since the past two series and the chest injury to Brett Lee, who is out of the Cardiff and Lord's games, takes further experience away from Australia while increasing the comfort of the local batsmen.

The home side has a new Ashes captain in Andrew Strauss and two match-winners in Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff. All three have beaten Australia and lost heavily to them. In the baggy green corner sits Ricky Ponting, a leader on his fourth tour of England, and he is in charge of an outfit that can no longer rely on Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist et al. After losing to India and South Africa, they crossed the Indian Ocean and beat the Proteas to retain the game's top spot earlier this year, but doubt remains over their status.

On the rankings page this is a battle between No. 1 and No. 5, but for Australia and England it is much more than that. The history of the competition is so detailed that the players will be told to break it down to a simple, clutter-free contest. It will be impossible for the Ashes debutants and how they cope with the initial stages could determine the result of the first Test.

Instead of Lord's or Edgbaston or Old Trafford staging the opening game, the players have stepped into Wales for the series welcome in Cardiff. It is the city's first Test match and there are still rumblings that it has been given a chapter of Ashes history. Australian supporters have tried to move on from the gripping 2005 defeat and England fans seem to have slept through the 2006-07 whitewash. Both sides want this version to be unforgettable.

Form guide

(last five matches, most recent first)

England - WWDDD
Australia - LWWWL

Watch out for ...

Kevin Pietersen is the player Australia feared most when they had Warne and McGrath, a world-beating pair which could not stop him from taking 963 runs at 53.50 in the two previous series. An Achilles injury threatens to be Pietersen's Achilles and he has only started running in the past week. A hobbling Pietersen could derail England's hopes, but his swagger is the most pronounced during the biggest contests and he will do anything to make it through to The Oval.

In South Africa Mitchell Johnson turned from a sometimes meek and wayward operator into the most frightening bowler in the game. He forced Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis to retire hurt while taking two wickets in the same opening spell in Durban, his potent short deliveries backed up by a new-found ability to swing the ball in as well as moving it away. Throw in his silky yet powerful batting and his performances could determine the series.

Team news

All of England's players are fit so they had to trim two men from their squad. Ian Bell has returned to play for Warwickshire so the final choice was between Monty Panesar and Graham Onions. Panesar had a much longer workout in the nets than Onions on Tuesday, and eventually was given the chance to partner Graeme Swann

England 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Ravi Bopara, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Matt Prior (wk), 7 Andrew Flintoff, 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 James Anderson, 11 Monty Panesar.

Lee's stomach injury has seriously disrupted Australia's plans and left a delicate choice for the tourists. Picking Nathan Hauritz alongside Johnson, Siddle and Clark would have been the most orthodox option, even though the offspinner has found county batsmen a challenge in the two warm-ups. But Ben Hilfenhaus was eventually given the go-ahead, in place of the unlucky Stuart Clark.

Australia 1 Simon Katich, 2 Phillip Hughes, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Michael Clarke, 6 Marcus North, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Nathan Hauritz, 10 Ben Hilfenhaus, 11 Peter Siddle.

Pitch and conditions

Ponting expects the pitch to have some moisture at the start, providing "slow-ish seam and trampoline" bounce, but he believes it will turn. The pitch spent most of Monday morning under the covers and when it was revealed in the afternoon there was not much green on the strip. Less colour was on show on Tuesday.

Andrew Strauss said it looked like a good pitch, but one that would not offer much pace or bounce. "There will be a little bit in it for everyone," he said, "and that's the sort of wicket we were hoping to see." The weather has been unpredictable, with rain and sun fighting for attention, and more wet conditions are predicted for the end of the week.

Stats and trivia

  • In 300 Ashes Tests England have won 95; Australia have been successful in 121
  • It is 1410 days since England won their last Ashes Test, at Trent Bridge in 2005
  • None of Australia's fast bowlers have played a Test in England
  • Allan Border was the last Australian captain to lose two Ashes series when his sides were beaten in 1985 and 1986-87
  • Australia must win the contest to keep the No. 1 Test rating

Quotes

"We know the type of cricket we need to play to win this series and we've got good ideas as to the type Australia are going to play too. We have to keep nice and calm and controlled."
Andrew Strauss

"Their side reads pretty good and I think if you matched both sides up on paper it would be pretty hard to pick the winner."
Ricky Ponting

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo