Australia v England, 1st Test, Brisbane November 24, 2010

Head-to-head: Strauss v Johnson a key contest


Andrew Strauss v Mitchell Johnson
Australia's quicks invariably target the captain of a visiting side, so there's nothing remarkable about Mitchell Johnson's declaration that he intends to knock Andrew Strauss's block off. He's the quickest of the Aussie attack, and if he gets it right (which can be an 'if' of Harmison-esque proportions) he can be lethal, as another left-handed captain and opener, Graeme Smith, can testify, after having the same hand broken twice in quick succession during Johnson's coming-of-age tour of South Africa in 2008-09. However, in the one true confrontation that the two men have had to date, Strauss won the bout by a knockout. A nervous Johnson sprayed 11 overs for 77 runs on the first morning of the Lord's Test, and a 75-year winning streak was ended there and then.

James Anderson v Shane Watson
A week of constant cloud cover and intermittent showers is in prospect for the first Test, which will embolden James Anderson as he seeks to dispel the notion that, for all his excellence in English swinging conditions, he'll struggle to replicate such riches in Australia. If he can find the sort of movement with the new ball that eluded him during his forlorn 1 for 195 performance on his last visit to the Gabba, he'll set himself up nicely for tougher tests to come in Adelaide and Perth. And one of the first men in his sights will be Shane Watson, whose critics claim he is not a natural opener, even though his tally of 12 half-centuries in 14 Tests in the role suggest he's settled in well. Nevertheless, in four of his five innings in England last summer, he was extracted lbw, which suggests the full delivery with a bit of lateral movement could yet cause him problems.

Steven Finn v Ricky Ponting
The suspicion in Australia is that Steven Finn is a bit wet behind the ears. He's got all the attributes to be a fine fast bowler, but 32 wickets in eight Tests against Bangladesh and a supine Pakistan batting side is no way to prepare for the heat, intensity and cut-throat challenge of the Gabbatoir. And this ground of all grounds is Ricky Ponting's fiefdom. He averages 66.14 here with four hundreds in 14 Tests, including 196 on England's last visit in 2006-07. No number of jousts with Imrul Kayes and Umar Akmal can prepare Finn for such a step-up in class. Nevertheless, he has an old head on young shoulders, and his height will extract steep bounce on Australia's hard decks. Ponting, by his own admission, is no longer nailing his pull shots as he once did in his pomp. There could be chances if he keeps his cool.

Kevin Pietersen v Xavier Doherty
At least Finn comes into this contest with a modicum of Test experience to fall back on. Xavier Doherty, on the other hand, must learn his game on the hoof. In fairness he did pretty well in that respect with 4 for 46 on his ODI bow at the MCG earlier in the month, but this will be another thing entirely. To make matters worse, everyone in the world game knows which of England's players will be in sights come Thursday - although it might well be the other way round, given what an affront to Kevin Pietersen's ego it would be to fall to yet another slow left-arm bowler. From Yuvraj Singh to Shakib Al Hasan, via Paul Harris and Sulieman Benn, KP's card is marked in that department. How he responds will be one of the talking points of the match.

Graeme Swann v Marcus North
Marcus North has talked at length about his fallibility in the early stages of an innings. The statistics show a man who's made five hundreds and two 90s in his 19-Test career, and yet has failed to pass 10 on 17 further occasions. His preparation for this series has centred on his footwork, which needs to be quick and decisive, especially in those crucial early overs of an innings. In Bangalore last month he preserved his place at No. 6 with a gutsy 128, and the success he enjoyed against Harbhajan Singh will give him renewed confidence as he resumes his rivalry with Graeme Swann, a bowler who specialises in both first-over dismissals and tormenting left-handers. North fell to Swann on three occasions in 2009, for scores of 6, 8 and 10. But, on three of the times he got away, he soared with 125 not out, 96 and 110.

Stuart Broad v Michael Clarke
Broad's finest spells in Test cricket have come when he pitches the ball up, never more devastatingly than at The Oval in the 2009 Ashes, when his five-wicket haul on the second afternoon set England up for their series-clinching win. But as a thrusting and aggressive seamer he's never been averse to banging it in, least of all against Michael Clarke, a player whose dodgy back means his susceptibility to the short ball will be ever more of an issue this week. At Cardiff in last summer's ODIs, Broad gave Clarke an especially thorough working-over - five consecutive short balls and a catch to short leg - and despite the change of format that success will not have been forgotten.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Brij on November 25, 2010, 3:38 GMT

    Picking Steven O'Keefe would have been a better option in my view, as he had bowled really well in the practice game in the lead up to the series and it would have been a good encouragement for him if he was picked in the team. Also, he is a good bat lower down the order.

  • Sonali on November 25, 2010, 2:58 GMT

    No one in the entire England team averages above 50 except Trott who has played only 13 tests. How can this be a good batting side? Look at Indian team. All top 4 averages way above 50 and even Laxman is getting close to 50.

  • Dummy4 on November 25, 2010, 2:20 GMT

    @Jon Spragg ..Man well said, I couldn't have said it better myself. But no disrespect to India though , they did beat New Zealand in the last test match after managing to draw the first two so I guess they thoroughly deserve to be number one ;).

  • Dummy4 on November 24, 2010, 22:22 GMT

    Wow, just how many Indian cricket fans can say the same thing, yes the Ashes is special, and no India will never be a part of it. Just beacuse your team is #1 for the first time since Cows have been holy doesn't mean that this will be a drab contest bewteen #4 and #5, quite the contrary in fact, the 2005 series was one of the all time classics - expect more of the same. India supporters, get over yourseleves, don't deride other sporting matchups where your not involved - enjoy the 'cricket' otherwise just watch another ODI win vs team #8.

  • Graeme on November 24, 2010, 21:24 GMT

    Head says England. Heart says England. Nerves say........ this is not going to be easy. England are the stronger team, settled and in good spirits. If we were playing anyone else England would be strong favourites. But really.... old out of form batsmen, bowlers who blow hot and cold, selectors who don't know there strongest team and now a 28 year old spinner who averages 48 in first class cricket. The way that the aussies are trying to replace warne is similar to the way we tried to relace Botham with Pringle, Lewis, Reeve, Defreitas et al. Its now or never! Come on England

  • Dummy4 on November 24, 2010, 20:33 GMT

    Leave the tradition aside for a minute and it is nothing more than a drab series between ICC's 4th and 5th ranked test nations. I am sure even Bangladesh will make both them slog for 5 days. Too much hype...

  • N on November 24, 2010, 20:27 GMT

    I actually think the series will be decided by each team's middle to lower order batting.

    Australia look shakey with Hussey/North/Haddin being in average form, while England also look a bit soft with Pietersen/Bell/Trott all with question marks.

    Then add both teams set of bowling all-rounders... and as with many series Australia have played in recently, it will be either side's ability to get through the lower order without losing too many runs that will make the difference. Swan is good at this and I feel Australia are going to miss Bollinger who enjoys firing up to the lower men.

  • Adrian on November 24, 2010, 19:37 GMT

    If England can win 1st test, they are well on their way to winning the Ashes. If Australia wins, there is still a long way to go. Australia should win 1st test but the Ashes itself is close to a 50/50 contest.

  • Steve on November 24, 2010, 19:36 GMT

    Maui3 is obviously an Aussie supporter.... not that there's anything wrong with that! I take issue about " all their good peformances have been limited to English soil" . Where have you been the past month whilst England have been dominating Western Australia, South Australia and Australia A? IT starts soon though...can't wait (about 4 hours to go!) COME ON ENGLAND!

  • Amit on November 24, 2010, 17:54 GMT

    This contest will be a no-contest. With all the promise the english side has, their good performance is limited on home soil. The drawn series against SA should be a 3-1 loss. Loss to India conceeding almost 400 on a turning pitch doesn't say much about their bowling, although Swann has imprived considerably since. Aussie on the other hand was a ball away from drawing a series against India in India. Australias will dominate the series, but will they close it out? I think so. A very confortable 3-1 win for Australia.

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