The Gabba, infamously known as the Gabbatoir, eagerly awaits the tasty morsel of the England cricket team for the first Ashes Test next week. Predictors and predictions very much side with Steve Smith’s men. The facts, after all, are stacked heavily in Australia’s favour given that they haven’t lost a game at the Gabba since 1988.
They will face an inexperienced England team, most of whom have never felt the heat in the cauldron of a Test match in Australia, with a batting order that is shaky at best. This will surely play into the fearsome pace trio of Mitchell Starc, fresh from his remarkable hat rick feats against Western Australia, Josh Hazlewood, who more resembles Glen McGrath with every Test he plays, and Pat Cummins, who recently had batsmen hopping around on the benign pitches of the sub-continent.
England, on the face of it, has little or no chance and that plays just perfectly for their preparations. They have very quietly gone about their business in the three warm-up games with the bowlers particularly impressing. Granted that the opposition has not been of the highest quality but you play what is put in front of you.
Chris Woakes is doing his best to show that he can be a credible version of Ben Stokes with some excellent bowling performances and Craig Overton has also impressed alongside the continually brilliant Jimmy Anderson. The bowling concern for Trevor Bayliss is the form of Stuart Broad who is down on pace and wickets. However, if ever there has been a player who can rise to an Ashes occasion it is Mr. Broad.
England’s batting remains a concern but opener Mark Stoneman has been playing well and now looks like a proper Test player. Dawid Malan has also got runs down the order, so it is not all doom and gloom. That said it is becoming a well-worn saying for a while now that England’s batting will have to fire and not just be reliant on Cook, Root and Bairstow. If the top order gets blown away in Brisbane then this will be a long and painful series for England.
The challenge for Bayliss is for at least one of their batting newbies to prosper alongside Chris Woakes, who is becoming increasingly influential on this tour. Then England has a chance.
There are proven performers and gnarled veterans in the shape of Alistair Cook, Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson. England has x-factor players as well in the form of Moeen Ali and Johnny Bairstow, in combination with Chris Woakes (if they can get a partnership or two going).
Lots of if’s and maybe’s but England can win this Ashes series if they can somehow get all eleven individuals playing to somewhere near their best.
From an Australian perspective, it will be very interesting to see how Steve Smith approaches this series. He will be required to deliver on a convincing Ashes series win over the old enemy and nothing else would be considered as acceptable from an extremely expectant public.
Smith has the definite edge with the players he has at his disposal but the question remains on whether they can deliver. David Warner could destroy England’s bowling attack, Smith likewise, but the middle order is not stable, nor is the choice of wicket-keeper.
Australia would be wise not to underestimate England as they have weaknesses of their own which can be exploited by Joe Root and his team. Smith and Lehmann will need to preach patience and guile to their team’s undoubted talents if they are to be victorious.
England have to get out of the Gabba alive and that means embracing and relishing the formidable challenge of an Ashes series on Australian soil. They will cop it from all sides both on and off the pitch and it is a massive undertaking.
It will be ferocious from ball one and England has to find a way of combatting the aggression that will come from the stands and from the Australian team. If they do that, then this will be far closer series than many people think.
My heart says England but the head says Australia, 3-2.
TOP IMAGE: The Gabba, Brisbane, where Australia has not lost a Test since 1988 (Via BaldBoris/WikiCommons)