England start their bid for a third straight Ashes series victory in Nottingham tomorrow morning.
Trent Bridge represents the first of 10 Tests between the old rivals in the next six months with England making the return trip later this year.
Australia’s preparations have not exactly gone to plan with the decision to sack Mickey Arthur and bring in Darren Lehmann as coach coming 16 days before the start of the series.
Lehmann is tasked with bringing some order to a squad that has been troubled by disciplinary issues in recent times; four players including Shane Watson were banned for a Test during the tour of India for failing to complete a ‘homework’ assignment, while David Warner was suspended for the pre-Ashes warm-up matches after throwing a punch at England batsman Joe Root in a Birmingham pub during the Champions Trophy.
England start as prohibitive favourites with the bookmakers after winning in India last winter, comfortably seeing off New Zealand earlier this summer and reaching the final of the Champions Trophy.
The return to fitness of Kevin Pietersen after a knee injury is a further boost and prompted a reshuffle in the batting order with Joe Root moving up to open with skipper Alastair Cook and Nick Compton dropping out.
Captain Alastair Cook has no fears about rookie batting partner Root being able to handle the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a first Ashes Test. Root has been promoted up the order to join Cook in the top two and the England skipper is confident the tyro will get amongst the runs. In his final media appearance today before the first Test, Cook also spoke of his pride at captaining England in an Ashes series for the first time, while admitting that “excitement” and “nerves” will be the prominent feelings amongst the squad over the next few hours, ahead of tomorrow’s opening delivery.
Michael Clarke was in relaxed and confident mood as he too faced the media. The Australia captain re-iterated that he was “100 per cent fit” after recent back problems and vowed to lead by example with the bat. He also expected swing bowling to play a big part at Trent Bridge on a dry wicket and with five days of hot weather forecast.
England’s main spinner Graeme Swann was confident England were ready for whatever Australia threw at them this summer. The Nottinghamshire spin bowler will be playing on his home ground in the series opener and refuted suggestions that Australia’s troubled build-up had resulted in complacency in the England squad. Swann said: “We climbed up to No 1 in the world which we were pleased about, but we didn’t stay there very long. We are continually aiming to improve and we’ve got to get back up there and until we are, we certainly won’t see ourselves as a dominant force.”
Vice-captain Brad Haddin believed Australia’s inexperienced squad was ready to defy low expectations and write a new chapter in Ashes history after back-to-back defeats. Haddin said: “It hurts and that won’t go away, the two losses in 2009 and the one at home – it is always going to hurt. We’d love to make amends for that in this series. Our progress over the last three weeks has been good. Now we’re excited about day one of the Test.”
Teams: England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Joe Root, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Jonny Bairstow, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Tim Bresnan, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Graeme Swann, 11 James Anderson. Australia (probable) 1 Shane Watson, 2 Chris Rogers, 3 Ed Cowan, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Phillip Hughes, 6 David Warner, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Starc, 9 Peter Siddle, 10 James Pattinson, 11 Nathan Lyon. (Sky)