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

Ashes newbies ready for greatest test

Usually in the biggest contests it is the senior members who hold the most power over the result, but in this series the teams will expect much more from their inexperienced picks to help grab them the urn. Almost half of the players at Sophia Gardens will be on their Ashes debut, with Australia considering giving six men their first taste against England and the hosts picking up to five greenhorns against the baggy greens.

The tourists have ten guys in their 16-man squad who have never faced the old enemy and the group is led by Mitchell Johnson, who was 12th man for all five Tests of the 2006-07 encounter. Phillip Hughes and Brad Haddin are other newbies to England and will have crucial roles in determining which side finishes on top at The Oval next month.

Ricky Ponting, the godfather of the visit, is on his fourth tour and even his deputy Michael Clarke is leaning on him for knowledge of the Old Dart. "I've done a lot of sitting and listening," Clarke, who was here in 2005, said. Before play the Australians have been outlining their favourite Ashes memories in an effort to inspire and remind each other of the importance of the century-old rivalry.

Informal mentoring sessions have also been occurring to prepare the younger members of the squad for the hype and attention. "I've spoken to a few of the guys about my experience," Clarke said. "The whole group has a different take on what the Ashes means to them.

"The younger guys are enjoying talking to the more senior players about what it's like to be part of an Ashes tour. It's still special for Ricky, who has played about 140 Tests [131] and is an amazing player. He's as excited as I've ever seen him in my career. I certainly look up to that and think he's keen as mustard for this series - and he's not on his own."

Ravi Bopara, England's No. 3, holds an intimidating role and will play in the country's most significant contest after only six Tests. Graham Onions (2 games) and Graeme Swann (7) are also relative newcomers while Stuart Broad and Matt Prior are established members of the team, which has its first chance to reply after the 5-0 loss in 2006-07.

Over the past 20 years there have been some grand Ashes entrances, with Mark Taylor taking 839 runs from England in 1989 and Shane Warne starting with the Ball of the Century four years later on the way to 34 wickets. In 2005 Kevin Pietersen averaged 52.55 after the first five Tests of his career and the former captain will be an important sounding board for England's wide-eyed boys.

England's Ashes new boys (5)
  Matches Performances
Ravi Bopara 6 Tests 397 runs @ 49.62
Stuart Broad 17 Tests 533 runs @ 31.35, 46 wickets @ 37.95
Graham Onions 2 Tests 10 wickets @ 20.00
Matt Prior 18 Tests 1065 runs @ 48.40, 40 catches, 1 stumping
Graeme Swann 7 Tests 105 runs @ 35.00, 34 wickets @ 26.23

Australia's Ashes new boys (10)
  Matches Performances
Phillip Hughes 3 Tests 415 runs @ 69.16
Marcus North 2 Tests 160 runs @ 40.00, 2 wickets @ 49.00
Brad Haddin 15 Tests 901 runs @ 37.54, 55 catches, 1 stumping
Mitchell Johnson 21 Tests 694 runs @ 34.70, 94 wickets @ 28.01
Nathan Hauritz 4 Tests 72 runs @ 12.00, 14 wickets @ 32.28
Peter Siddle 7 Tests 106 runs @ 11.77, 29 wickets @ 27.65
Andrew McDonald 4 Tests 107 runs @ 21.40, 9 wickets @ 33.33
Ben Hilfenhaus 3 Tests 28 runs @ 7.00, 7 wickets @ 52.28
Shane Watson 8 Tests 257 runs @ 19.76, 14 wickets @ 35.57
Graham Manou 0 Tests  

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo