Ashes can make heroes and history
Wednesday, July 10, Trent Bridge
Start time 1100 (1000 GMT)
The length of the build-up to an Ashes series is unparalleled in cricket. It begins the day after the last Ashes series is completed and it grows into an obsession for several months before the off, a period in which former England or Australia cricketers are invited to offer up a prediction on a daily basis and past series are lovingly dwelt upon for the umpteenth time.
This time, it is different; this time England and Australia have not five, but ten Tests to contest as they are faced by back-to-back Ashes series which will end in Sydney in early January. By the time it is all over, heroes will have emerged, careers been forever tarnished and the pantomime baiting between England and Australia fans - not forgetting the media - will have been exhausted.
For the most casual cricket followers in England and Australia, the Ashes remains their only connection with the sport. Cricket becomes a topic of conversation in the unlikeliest of places. But by the eve of the first Test, real cricket lovers are beside themselves with impatience for the talking to stop and the series to get underway.
Finally, in the bright-white gentility of Trent Bridge, it will, amid confident forecasts of hot, sunny days. It is true that England and Australia are only ranked three and four in the world, but it will be captivating nonetheless. Are England now so well analysed and programmed that it could affect their ability to think on their feet if things go wrong? Can Darren Lehmann's arrival as Australia coach be anything more than a temporary uplift that will dissipate once the quality of the sides is tested? We are about to discover the answer.
Players to watch
Graeme Swann is an ebullient sort of fellow and he could be forgiven ahead of the Trent Bridge Test if he burst into song, one of his favourites perhaps when he fronts the Nottingham-based band Dr Comfort and the Lurid Revelations. Swann, fully recovered from a second elbow operation, has never had more favourable conditions on his home ground. The forecast is for sunshine galore, Australia are packed with left-handers - and have a left-armer to create footmarks - so he will never have a better chance of attending to a paltry return at Trent Bridge of three wickets at 65 runs apiece.
For Australia, James Pattinson is a source of considerable excitement. He is a combative, talented quick bowler, eager to avenge England's treatment of his older brother, Darren, a Nottinghamshire stalwart whose sole England Test cap against South Africa in 2008 was widely condemned in the media. Trent Bridge is the perfect ground on which to uphold the family honour.
After the cut-throat decision to drop Nick Compton, the one space still to be decided is that of the third quick behind James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Steven Finn is the man in possession, but with reverse swing likely to be a key weapon Tim Bresnan, who has 15 wickets in two Tests on the ground, is firmly in the picture. Graham Onions is the outsider but bowls very well to left handers.
England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Joe Root, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Jonny Bairstow, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Tim Bresnan, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Graeme Swann, 11 James Anderson.
Michael Clarke was coy about his final XI, but continued to suggest that Australia would be comfortable selecting David Warner despite his lack of recent cricket. His place will have to come in the middle order with Shane Watson and Chris Rogers, whose previous Test came in 2008, confirmed as the opening pair. The fast-bowling attack could comprise various trios, but Ryan Harris and Jackson Bird appear likely to miss out.
Australia (probable) 1 Shane Watson, 2 Chris Rogers, 3 Ed Cowan, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Phillip Hughes, 6 David Warner, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Starc, 9 Peter Siddle, 10 James Pattinson, 11 Nathan Lyon
Pitch and conditions
Both attacks are bracing themselves for a demanding bowling experience on a benign surface in what for England are comparatively warm conditions. Chris Read, the Nottinghamshire captain and former England keeper, has warned that traditional swing and seam has been less prominent this summer. Expect big first-innings scores, bags of reverse swing and spin and Broad turning red in the heat faster than most.
Stats and trivia
- Tim Bresnan has taken four or more wickets in a Test on five occasions - and three of them have been at Trent Bridge, scene of the first Test
- Billy Cooper, the Barmy Army trumpeter, who will not be allowed to play at Trent Bridge, was thrown out of The Gabba in 2006/7 for playing the theme tune from Neighbours. Four years later Brisbane changed its tune and he was made part of the official entertainment package on the first day.
- England have not won the opening Test of an Ashes series since 1997 at Edgbaston. That series ended 3-2 in Australia's favour
"I think psychologically we're in a much better place, the only danger is that we'll be too laid-back. The Aussies will fight, there's no doubt about that...but if we score the runs we're capable of then we'll win comfortably."
David Saker, England's Australian-born bowling coach, shows no sign of split loyalties.
"I've read it will make or break my reputation as a captain. Personally, I don't feel like that. "
Michael Clarke, Australia's captain, plots an early escape route in case things go awry.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo