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1st Ashes Test Preview: England look towards Stokes, Root and rain to achieve the improbable

Ashes urn
Ashes urn
©Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs

The predicted showers on all five days of the Gabba Test will keep James Anderson and Stuart Broad interested.

 LIVE SCORES - Australia vs England, 1st Ashes Test

Time to shift focus to cricket, finally

The build-up to the upcoming Ashes has been unlike any other in the past. Fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic-induced quarantine, torrential rains in Queensland, the Tim Paine scandal and the long list of racism allegations in Yorkshire cricket, there has been more written and said about the off-field stuff rather than on-field, which is never ideal.

One can only hope that as the first ball is bowled at the Gabba, the focus shifts to actual cricket.

New role for Cummins, Smith

In the wake of Tim Paine stepping down, first from the Australian captaincy and then making himself unavailable indefinitely, the captaincy has inevitably fallen into the lap of Pat Cummins, who will have Steve Smith by his side as his deputy.

Who would have imagined after Sandpaper Gate, but Smith is now just an injury away from captaining Australia again.

Poor form

Both the teams haven't had a great run in Test cricket of late. Australia, for one, haven't played red-ball cricket since their historic defeat to India last year which culminated at this very venue.

England, too, have produced their worst result in recent times, having won only four of their last 12 Test matches -- effectively losing their last series against India as well.

It looked all doom and gloom for England a couple of months ago with a 0-5 series defeat plastered all over analysis and opinion pieces. However, the return of Ben Stokes, the availability of Jos Buttler and assistance from the weather has revitalized England's chances of giving Australia a run for their money.

England's forgettable away Ashes record

Every England supporter knows how hard it is to win a Test match in Australia. After all, the team has not won a single Test Down Under in over a decade -- quite a poor show, given the lofty regard in which the competitiveness of an Ashes is held.

The practice sessions of both teams in the build-up to the first Test match have been affected due to torrential rains in Queensland and rain interruptions are expected across all five days of the first Test, which can only play in the hands of England.

Last chance saloon for Broad, Anderson 

Sunny, dry and disappointing days are not expected for England with their veteran pace bowling duo of Stuart Broad and James Anderson likely to extract something out of the moisture in the air, if not the surface.

The Joe Root-led side is likely to go in with both Broad and Anderson in their playing XI. Mark Wood, who was being looked at as one of three enforcers in the England squad alongside Olly Stone and Jofra Archer is now England's sole tearaway and England will have to use him quite wisely.

Robinson ahead of Woakes, Leach

Chris Woakes adds a lot with his cricketing ability and presence, but England might prefer to go with Ollie Robinson for the first Test match, even ahead of Jack Leach, due to the rain forecast.

Rory Burns is likely to open the English batting with Haseeb Hameed. Dawid Malan, Joe Root and Ollie Pope will take the three spots in the middle order. Jonny Bairstow will give tough competition to Pope but the youngster is expected to pip the seasoned pro.

Harris, Carey, Head take the remaining spots

Australia have already confirmed that they'll open the batting with David Warner and Marcus Harris with Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, their most dependable batters, at No. 3 and 4 respectively. The hosts will lean towards Travis Head rather than Usman Khawaja for the No.5 role.

Big things are expected of the Australian all-rounder Cameron Green and while he is expected to do well with the bat at No. 6, more potency is expected from his bowling. No matter how much you rationalise it, his head to head battle with Ben Stokes cannot be avoided.

Despite Jhye Richardson breathing down Mitchell Starc's neck, the quartet of Cummins, Lyon, Starc and Hazlewood will start for Australia. 

Predicted playing XIs

- David Warner, Marcus Harris, Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood

England - Rory Burns, Haseeb Hameed, Dawid Malan, Joe Root, Ollie Pope, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Ollie Robinson, Mark Wood, Stuart Broad, James Anderson

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