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If England don't make a strong showing in Brisbane, Australia could run away with the Ashes

Australia have a good attack, established stars with the bat, and a new captain who is the best man for the job

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
This is the hardest Ashes series to decipher.
First, there are the controversies to be assessed on both sides; the Tim Paine crisis and the Azeem Rafiq Yorkshire debacle. Then, neither team has played much serious cricket in the build-up and therefore it's hard to equate the successors in each side.
However, it's still the Ashes and one team will gain an advantage over the other. It seems that England has to quickly establish their credentials at the Gabba or they will be overrun by an Australian team in the ascendant.
England have that opportunity in the first Test. There is an unknown quantity about the pitch, Ben Stokes is making his comeback as a full allrounder, and Pat Cummins is yet to establish his captaincy credentials.
The last point is the most crucial for Australia. Cummins is the right choice as captain. He is by far the most inspirational cricketer in Australia. If a team-mate is not inspired by Cummins' heartfelt leadership, he's playing the wrong grade. However, Steven Smith as vice-captain is a controversial choice. How come Smith's leadership punishment carries a different weight to that of David Warner?
Cheating is cheating and both players indulged in the crime at Newlands in 2018. That being the case, their punishments should be identical but they are not. I can only assume Smith received the lesser punishment, in terms of not being disbarred from the captaincy, because someone at Cricket Australia (CA) didn't like Warner. Like and dislike cannot be part of any selection dilemma and CA should have made a complete break from the past with a brand new leadership duo.
England need to establish authority quickly at the Gabba because the wicket may help them early on. If Stokes can then put himself in the mind of the Australians, this will undermine their confidence and may create some unwanted doubts in Cummins as a leader. Even if England don't win the first Test, they need to finish the game on top to head into the Adelaide day-night affair with a full head of steam. If, on the other hand, Australia win or at least establish authority in Brisbane, a shaky English outfit will struggle to regain a winning psychological advantage.
Joe Root's leadership qualities are tenuous at best. As a captain he lacks imagination, which can be a necessary quality in Australia. England's best hope is that Stokes can establish himself as a player of authority and that his advice will be well received in the Test side. Stokes' assertive nature, if Root accepts his input, would make a big difference to England's on-field leadership.
Australia have three established stars with the bat: Warner, Smith and Marnus Labuschagne. They have three others who are a gamble, with Cameron Green the most likely to succeed. Marcus Harris and either Usman Khawaja or Travis Head are the players who are most likely to be found wanting.
Australia's best attribute is a strong bowling attack which will fare well if Alex Carey provides the expected input as keeper. England, on the other hand, have an attack well suited to home conditions but one that has plenty of question marks over it when it comes to a series in Australia. If Stokes establishes his credentials as an aggressive bowler in Australia, this will improve England's chances immensely.
On the batting side only Root and Stokes are confirmed English players of Ashes quality. The rest of the side need to make their mark. The most changes in the series are likely to occur in the England batting, and if this happens Australia will have triumphed.
Australia don't have much wiggle room in their batting, and this is one reason why a hard-fought game in Brisbane is critical.
I expect Root's leadership to wane over the series and Cummins to establish his authority by the end of the five matches. If this happens, Australia will comfortably finish the series winner.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist