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.