England vs Australia, Latest Updates: No damages for England. Jason Roy and Rory Burns survive the two overs. That'll be stumps on Day 1. If the rest of the series is as interesting as the way it has begun, we're in for a delight! England dominate in the first two sessions, before Australia rising in the third. The day belongs to Steve Smith, who leads Australia out of the ground to a standing ovation from the crowd. Start with boos, end with cheers. Brilliant.
PREVIEW: We're almost there, all set to take an important step towards preservation, and hopefully growth, of Test cricket. The ICC World Test Championship begins on August 1, with England taking on Australia at the Ashes opener in Birmingham. The World Test Championship has been introduced to add context to bilateral series. Ironically, if at all there is one Test series that hardly needs any context, it's the Ashes. Test Championship or not, neither side needs motivation when they meet each other. In fact, this is the series that the two countries are obsessed with, to the extent that they even plan their entire calendars around the Ashes. The Test Championship is bonus context - the maximum of 120 points to be gained from the five Tests could prove useful later on.
England and Australia come into the series with mixed run of forms in Test cricket. England are of course on a high after the World Cup win, but their Test run hasn't been ideal. They had a scare against Ireland last week, when they were bowled out for just 85 on the first day at Lord's. They did bounce back to win the game, but would have learned that it's important to move on from the World Cup euphoria. Such are the times that the players don't even get to celebrate such a massive achievement for too long. In some ways, the Ireland game came at the perfect time for England. It was a wake-up call, without costing them too much embarrassment in terms of result. Prior to the Ireland game and the World Cup, England had another reversal in their Test fortunes when they lost to West Indies 1-2 away from home. They are No. 4 in the ICC rankings for Test teams.
England's white-ball mantra in the last four years has meant the red-ball cricket has taken a slight back-seat. Now that the World Cup has been won, Ashley Giles, the managing director of England men's cricket, said they would once again redress the balance between the two formats. England's Test game is once again set to be prioritised, and the Ashes is a good time to begin. England are also willing to take inputs from one format into another. Jason Roy and Jofra Archer have found places in the squad for the first Test on the back of terrific World Cup form. They do have good first-class numbers, Archer in particular, but it's the World Cup that has put them in the limelight. Archer hasn't made it to the XI for the first game, but Roy is set for his Ashes debut. Most importantly for England, James Anderson has been passed fit.
Australia too have been on and off in Test cricket. More off than on, actually. Since the last Ashes, which they won 4-0 in Australia, they have lost to South Africa and Pakistan away and to India for the first time ever at home. Their only series win since the last Ashes came at home against Sri Lanka earlier this year. Plenty has happened in the time between the two Ashes as far as Australian cricket is concerned. The tour of South Africa threw their game into turmoil, with Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft suspended for ball-tampering. They were on a never-ending downward slide, which was stopped somewhat only in recent times before and during the World Cup. The ODI side has begun a revival, and Australia's challenge now is to stop the turmoil in their Test side. The good news is that they've got their best team back, with the trio returning to action. How rusty they will be, and how they'll cope with the not-so-warm reception by the English crowd, remains to be seen.
The return of the three means Australia have something they aren't used to in recent times - a problem of plenty. They've had to make some tough selection calls in recent times, and have a 17-player touring party for the five matches. They are even willing to take some tough selections in the XI, with them all set to even drop Mitchell Starc if needed. Australia are yet to announce their XI - they need all the time to decide on the same. The most important change in recent times though is the manner in which they're playing the game. Known for aggression and sledging, Australia have toned down in recent times. So much so that they were even said to be 'soft'. A lot of that is to do with Tim Paine, the captain, leading the way. Can they stick to that against their arch rivals in the most important series?
England XI: Rory Burns, Jason Roy, Joe Root (c), Joe Denly, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, James Anderson.
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.