|Men’s Ashes 2019: England v Australia, first Specsavers Test|
|Venue: Edgbaston Dates: 1-5 August Start time: 11:00 BST|
|Coverage: Ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra and BBC Sport website, plus in-play highlights and text commentary|
England’s bid to regain the Ashes from Australia begins with the first Test at Edgbaston on Thursday.
The home side won the World Cup just over two weeks ago, but were beaten 4-0 on their tour down under in 2017-18.
England have not lost a home Ashes series since 2001 and have not lost at Edgbaston to any side in 11 years.
They have opted against handing a debut to pace bowler Jofra Archer, instead preferring Chris Woakes on his home ground.
Australia are yet to confirm their team, but batsmen Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft are in line to play Test cricket for the first time since being banned for their part in the ball-tampering scandal on the tour of South Africa in 2018.
The series, the latest start to an Ashes in the UK, will move on to Lord’s, Headingley and Old Trafford before the urn is lifted at The Oval after a fifth Test that begins on 12 September.
Root ‘steely and desperate’
England captain Joe Root was on his first tour in charge 18 months ago, when England were outplayed on the field and dogged by problems off it.
Ben Stokes, this week restored as Test vice-captain, missed the tour after an incident outside a Bristol nightclub, and wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow was accused of ‘headbutting’ Bancroft in the same Perth bar where England Lions batsman Ben Duckett would later pour a drink over James Anderson.
“You look back at an experience like that and take as much out of it as you can,” said 28-year-old Root. “I felt absolutely gutted and raw at the end of it.
“I never want to lose a big series like the Ashes, but it does make you more steely and desperate to turn things around this time.”
Until 2005, England went 20 years without lifting the urn on home soil. Since then, each captain – Michael Vaughan, Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook twice – has got his hands on the tiny trophy at The Oval.
Although Root admitted he had “dreamt” about joining them, he said his team must focus on playing “strong cricket”.
“It’s easy to get carried away in a dream world and it is something growing up as a kid you want to be a part of,” he told BBC Sport.
“It’s an opportunity for this team to put themselves in the bracket with some famous teams, but we have to earn that right. We have to play some good cricket to get there and we’re more than capable of doing so.”
‘Our circle is unbreakable’ – Paine not intimidated
For Australia, Thursday sees them return to the ground where they were heavily defeated by England in the World Cup semi-final this month.
Edgbaston is famous for its partisan support of the home team, but Paine claimed he could name 15 more intimidating venues in world cricket.
“It’s great to be out on the ground. It’s not as great if you’re the person copping the songs, but it’s one of those things,” he said.
“The guys are looking forward to that. It’s part and parcel of coming here and it can sometimes bind the group and make them even better.
“We’ve spoken about making sure we’re driving our own energy, building our own atmosphere out on the ground. If we can do that we know that our own circle is unbreakable.”
Paine took over as captain following the sandpaper scandal that saw then captain Smith and deputy Warner banned for a year and opening batsman Bancroft for nine months.
Smith and Warner were booed throughout the World Cup, and wicketkeeper Paine said: “We spoke about the fact we think it’s going to go up a notch.
“It’s got the potential to unsettle anyone,” he said. “They’re human beings. They’ve got feelings. They’re no different to anyone else.”
Where will the Ashes be won and lost?
Curiously, there is a similar look to the strengths and weaknesses of both sides.
Whereas each team is stacked with fast-bowling options, their batting looks vulnerable, especially in English conditions that usually favour the seamers.
England have Archer, all-rounder Sam Curran and Mark Wood, who is currently nursing a side injury, waiting in the wings, while Australia have only three places for Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle and Josh Hazlewood.
However, the hosts were bowled out for only 85 in their win over Ireland at Lord’s last week, with Root now opting to promote himself from number four to three in a bid to stiffen the top order.
With Australia similarly fragile, it is a huge boost for the tourists to be able to call on Warner and Smith, who was man of the series in the last Ashes thanks to his 687 runs at an average of 137.
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On a wet Wednesday at Edgbaston, Root was asked if it will be a pattern of the series for the batsmen to struggle.
“It will play a massive hand, especially if conditions are how they are today,” he said. “It’s not like sides have been consistently banging out 500 around the world, never mind in England or Australia. That has been the rhythm of cricket globally in this format.
“There is a lot of talk about bowlers, but with that comes the opportunity for batters to prove a point.”
As interesting as the action with bat and ball will be the interaction between the two sides.
The last series down under was occasionally bad-tempered, but since then both teams have looked at their conduct – England in the wake of the Stokes incident, Australia after the ball-tampering affair.
Not only that, but England and Australia players have featured in global Twenty20 leagues together. Bairstow and Warner, for example, have opened together with great success in the Indian Premier League.
Paine said: “We’re going to play competitive Test match cricket like any other nation does. Our guys understand what’s expected of them. They are role models not just for Australian people but all around the world.”
What’s new this summer?
As well as being a battle for cricket’s oldest prize, the next five Tests mark the start of the World Test Championship – a new, two-year, competition introduced by the International Cricket Council in the hope that it will give more context to Test cricket.
In a league of nine teams – India, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Indies and Bangladesh also feature – each side plays six series, three home and three away over the course of the next two years.
Points are awarded for the results of every Test, with the top two meeting in a final in the UK in 2021.
The points earned for a win depends on the length of the series, with the maximum number on offer in each series, 120, divided by the number of Tests. In this five-match series, each win is worth 24 points.
To coincide with the beginning of the Championship, names and numbers will feature on the back of players’ shirts for the first time in Test cricket.
In another first, concussion substitutes are also being introduced, having being trialled in domestic games in England and Australia. If a player is injured, he must be replaced like-for-like – so a batsman cannot be switched for a fast bowler.
This series is the last of England coach Trevor Bayliss’ reign. The Australian has opted to leave his post when his contract expires at the end of the summer.
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