Ageing Australia seek to overturn England's home Ashes hold
July 8, 2015
Start time 11.00am local (1000GMT)
Here we go again. For the third time in two years an Ashes series is about to be played out. Ten years since the Greatest Series Ever (probably) dare we hope for something that will even come close to matching that drama?
It all begins in Cardiff - at what was formerly known as Sophia Gardens but is now named after a major power supplier. Whether the series calls for a demand for extra electricity when fans up and down the country rush to put the kettle on at lunch and tea could well depend on how this first Investec Test unfolds.
Six years ago the corresponding fixture ended in the pulsating scenes of James Anderson and Monty Panesar repelling the threat - if that's the right word - of Nathan Hauritz and Marcus North. In those closing overs Mitchell Johnson was stood in the outfield; this time Johnson returns with memories of a 37-wicket haul down under still fresh.
Only six of the England team that appeared in the final game of that series in Sydney will play here (name the full XI for the match, it is a good quiz question) while Australia are likely to have eight. Whether that reinforces the 'Dad's Army' tag thrown around in the last few weeks or will become viewed as the value of experience could be a little clearer in five days.
There is not as much between the two sides as may have been envisaged a few months ago, but if Australia - ageing side or not - get an early lead in Cardiff they will be difficult to haul in, notwithstanding the fact England lost the first Test in 2005. A win for England and the series could be a classic.
But after the 18 months of ups and downs they have had in Test cricket, Alastair Cook, who spent the closing overs of the 2009 match sat in the showers unwilling to move, would probably be content with another draw.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
It is fascinating to see a new generation of Test cricketer emerge. In this series the head-to-head between Joe Root and Steven Smith should be compelling. Smith's promotion to No. 3 means his role has evolved a little, while Root is England's engine room at No. 5. Both have been through Ashes traumas - Smith in 2010-11 when England thought he was a bit of a joker and Root in 2013-14 when he was eventually dropped - but the pair are now at the top of their games. Smith has scored 1052 runs in his last six Tests and Root, since his recall last June, has made 1318 runs at 82.37. Both also bowl handy part-time spin, are superb in the field and don't mind the odd word or two.
There has not been this much talk of the Mitchells in England since Phil was shot in EastEnders. Australia might have three of them, and at least two. Mitchell Johnson comes with the recent Ashes history, but it is Mitchell Starc with the compelling recent form which has seen him translate his World Cup menace into red-ball wickets. His 2013 Ashes series was underwhelming, but the consensus is that Starc is now ready to rule the world. And, if the pitch is flat in Cardiff, he can take the 22 yards out of the equation with one of the finest yorkers in the current game.
In 2009, England were sucked into playing two spinners in Cardiff. Ultimately they were grateful as Panesar helped save the day, but his pairing with Graeme Swann was not fruitful. They are unlikely to go down that route again despite the presence of Adil Rashid. The recent (British) heatwave has abated somewhat in South Wales, so four quicks with Moeen Ali - and some Root - is the most likely attack. Meanwhile, Gary Ballance and Ian Bell both begin the series under some pressure.
England 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Adam Lyth, 3 Gary Ballance, 4 Ian Bell, 5 Joe Root, 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Jos Buttler (wk), 8 Moeen Ali, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Mark Wood, 11 James Anderson
Two Marshs, one Marsh or no Marsh. That appears to be Australia's selection conundrum. Has Chris Rogers, who missed the two Tests in West Indies with concussion, done enough to force his way back past Shaun Marsh and has Shane Watson done enough to keep his place ahead of Mitchell Marsh? The answer to both would appear to be yes.
Australia 1 David Warner, 2 Chris Rogers, 3 Steven Smith, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Adam Voges, 6 Shane Watson, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Josh Hazlewood, 11 Nathan Lyon
Pitch and conditions
Keith Exton, the Glamorgan groundsman, said he does not expect a "sporting" pitch although there was a decent matting of grass left on the surface and the forecast of an overcast first morning could make the toss interesting. However, the weather is set fair and is expected to warm up during the weekend.
Stats and trivia
- Four of the top 10 Test run-scorers since January 2014 will play in this Test: Smith, Warner, Root and Ballance
- Each team is likely to have three players who appeared in the 2009 match on this ground (Cook, Broad, Anderson; Clarke, Haddin, Johnson)
- Dean Cosker, the 37-year-old Glamorgan left-arm spinner, will be one of England's substitute fielders for the first two days of the Test. Cosker was once viewed as an England prospect, reaching England A level between 1997 and 1999.
"There is a lot written about my captaincy and it is important I sometimes get on the front foot. If you look back at previous teams, they were more methodical. Maybe there's more opportunity to be on the front foot with the players we've got now."
"We've been fortunate enough to have a lot of success as a team, winning away from home has been the area we've addressed and said we want to be more consistent. Beating teams in their own backyard is always the toughest part of our game and I'm sure this series will be no different."
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo