The Ashes first Test preview: Perfect storm for England?

It’s been a while since an Ashes series has started with so many unknowns and where the result may not exactly follow the script, and England could well be on the right side of the perfect Australian storm.

This has hardly been a straightforward series in preparation for the hosts and England yet again go Down Under being the underdogs. But that’s not to say they can’t come out on top if they get it right and take advantage of the disruptions in the Australian camp.

Ahead of Wednesday’s first Test, we preview the action below.

Weather the first battle

Going into the first Test at the Gabba, England will have more than one eye on the weather forecast. Rainfall records tumbled across Queensland in November as the La Nina weather system created havoc with pre-Test preparations, both in terms of warm-up games and work on the pitch. England and Australia have had limited opportunity to practice on the field in the build-up to the first day of the series as a result and both sides will have been nervously watching the forecasts for this week. Fortunately, a break in the rain over the weekend has allowed some much-needed sunshine to bake the pitch and let the two sides out on to the practice pitches to find their feet. The forecast for the whole Test, however, isn’t what Australia will have been hoping for; scattered thunderstorms are expected for the first three days with conditions likely to improve on day four before another patchy outlook on the final day.

The Gabba has been a fortress for Australia in the Ashes and any disruption to play at this venue will infuriate the hosts no end. England have only managed to win twice at the ground since the end of the Second World War so if they were to come out of this opener unscathed and with a draw, the tourists will be delighted. Justin Langer and his men will know the importance of that result as heading into the second Test, where we are treated to a day/night match, England’s bowlers will certainly have the upper hand with the pink ball. Any significant breaks in play will also allow England’s ageing bowling attack to rest and recuperate ready for that all important Adelaide Test. The weather then could be the real winner in this Test and a draw at 9/5 could be the best bet available if the weather predictions are correct.

Captain Cummins

In every Ashes series there is always some form of selection issue that arises and dominates the headlines – usually England are the main victims of this but this year it’s the turn of Australia. However, a controversy of this size and importance has rarely unfolded in the build-up to an Ashes series. Tim Paine had the captaincy stripped from him only a matter of weeks ago and Cricket Australia made the slightly unique decision to offer the armband to a pace bowler. How this will pan out remains to be seen but there are obvious question marks surrounding the decision to use an untried pace bowler as captain in a series of such importance.

Ashes series are often won and lost by captains and the significance of having the right man in the job cannot be questioned, so all eyes will be on Pat Cummins on the morning of the first Test as he walks out for the toss. How he will hold that pressure will be his first obstacle before the cricket has even started. There are so many topics to ponder here that will define not only this series but his career.

Australia are 21/20 to make Cummins’ first Test as captain a winning one, but it could be too much of an uphill battle against the weather and bursts of sporadic play will not suit the Australian team. They are better when time allows them to ground their opponents down, which can’t be done in a weather-worn situation. England’s price of 7/2 for victory looks a fair one but unfortunately they have the same opposition as Australia, the weather. It’ll be a shame that an interrupted Test looks unlikely but if England can hold on through the short segments of play then the draw result will look a gift come Adelaide, and so will the 9/5 available for it.

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