England cricket team

There is nothing like the anticipation of an Ashes Series, with its intense build-up, the customary war of words, close scrutiny of form and fevered discussion over selection. The 2017-18 Series is clearly no different.

With the first Test at Brisbane approaching, hope and doubt abounds on both sides. For England, plenty of runs for the batsmen and miles in the legs for the bowlers may be set against the fact that the matches played so far have been against modest opposition and on slow pitches bearing scant resemblance to the pace and bounce in store at Brisbane. Lingering questions over key batting conditions and the absence of Ben Stokes will also temper optimism.

However, Australia are far from being hot favourites. True, they may have a formidable pace battery led by Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood, but the fitness record of the Aussie fast bowlers is somewhat variable and the batting remains heavily reliant on the big two of Steve Smith and David Warner. Moreover, the selection for the first two Tests has prompted heavy criticism, partly over the choice of Shaun Marsh to bat at number six, but also the inclusion of Tim Paine as wicketkeeper, bringing a man who has not even been keeping for Tasmania back into the side seven years after the last of his four Tests to date. 


The biggest talk, however, has been about Brisbane itself, where the Gabba has lived up to its nickname of the 'Gabbatoir' in recent years, a gladiatorial arena where touring sides are brutally put to the sword in front of a raucous and partisan crowd. Not since 1988 have Australia lost there, and the consensus is that England must at least escape with a draw if they are to retain the urn.

Ashes history certainly bears this out. Not since the 1954-55 series have England won the series down under after going 1-0 down at the Gabba. Their last win there was in the 1986-87 series, a seven wicket victory that paved the way for Mike Gatting's men to secure what was to be England's last Ashes win down under for 24 years. When the feat was finally repeated in 2010-11, it happened because England managed to save the game in emphatic style, piling up a mammoth 517-1 declared in a second innings that set the tone for a series that, apart from Perth, was characterised by massive English run-scoring. 

Adelaide oval Gullivers

Of course, it isn't all about Brisbane. Adelaide will bring the novelty of the first day-night Ashes Test, with England hoping to have as much success with the pink ball as they did in thrashing the West Indies at Edgbaston earlier this year. Indeed, Adelaide has often proved a happy hunting ground for England, with an innings win in December 2010 setting them on their way to that historic series win.

After the novelty of Adelaide will be an unexpected familiarity at Perth, with the new cricket stadium not yet ready. This means the WACA will host one last Ashes Test and England will hope the result is not too familiar, this being a ground where they have lost every Test since Gatting's tour. 

Sydney fireworks display

The Boxing Day Test at Melbourne and the finale in the new year at Sydney will conclude what may just be the most closely fought series down under for many years. In well over a century of cricketing conflict, England and Australia have won 32 series each, with just seven draws. 

Whatever happens, it is bound to be a tantalising and riveting contest, and a memorable experience for those enjoying the action at the grounds. 



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