The oldest cricket rivalry is back on home soil and the 71st Ashes promises to be an enthralling series.
England, including many of the World Cup-winning squad, head into the first Test at Edgbaston on the back of an unconvincing batting display, albeit balanced by a strong bowling performance, in their victory in the one-off Test against Ireland.
Holders Australia, who last won on away soil 18 years ago, led by captain Tim Paine will look to prevent England skipper Joe Root making it a doubly successful summer’s campaign.
With England sitting fourth in the ICC Test rankings, one spot above Australia, we take a closer look at what should provide hope for a fifth successive Ashes series win on home soil.
England vs Australia
August 1, 2019, 10:00am
Get Sky Sports Get a Sky Sports pass
Let’s begin with a very reassuring fact. England have not lost a Test series at home since a 1-0 defeat in a two-match encounter against Sri Lanka in 2014.
Ashes series on home soil since 2001 (when Australia last won in England)
|2005||England won 2-1|
|2009||England won 2-1|
|2013||England won 3-0|
|2015||England won 3-2|
In fact, since Root replaced Alastair Cook as Test captain in 2017, England have won three of the four series’ they have faced, drawing against Pakistan last year, while they defeated world No 1 side India this time last summer.
Edgbaston will play host to the opening match of the five-match series and England have not lost against the old enemy at the Birmingham ground since 2001.
0:54 David Gower believes playing at Edgbaston in the first Ashes Test will give England an advantage over Australia
Meanwhile, Ashley Giles, managing director of England men’s cricket, made a bold decision earlier this season, deeming this year’s design of Dukes balls to be too batsman-friendly, and ordered a new batch made to 2018 specifications – that means a pronounced seam and more movement off the pitch.
The Duke ball is a main reason behind England’s success, with the experienced new-ball partnership of James Anderson, who has taken 72 wickets at 16 runs each at home, and Stuart Broad excellent at exploiting the conditions to their benefit.
There were no real surprises in the bowling line-up within England’s 14-man squad for the first Test.
James Anderson, who is expected to overcome a right calf injury, should lead the line at Edgbaston, with former England captain and Sky Sports expert David Gower backing Chris Woakes to potentially earn the nod ahead over Broad on his home ground.
Archer, who Gower says is the most exciting England player for some time, proved his fitness on his return from a side strain sustained during the World Cup for Sussex, while Ben Stokes will also provide a seam option. Moeen Ali will be the spinner, with Jack Leach not selected for Birmingham.
1:05 Stuart Broad says England are raring to go for the Ashes, which starts at Edgbaston on Thursday
There is no denying England will face a strong bowling attack of their own in Australia, with Mike Atherton highlighting a “very eye-catching pace attack”, which includes Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Peter Siddle.
Both attacks with back themselves to prove the difference but in Archer, who has proven his ability to step up on the big occasion, and record wicket-taker Anderson home fans should feel confident.
The one major presence who will be an ever-present during the series – fitness permitting – that was not available in the last series in Australia was Ben Stokes.
The 28-year-old, who was absent from the 4-0 series defeat in 2017-18 after he was charged with affray following an incident outside a Bristol nightclub, has been reinstated as vice-captain of the Test side.
Stokes was named man of the match in the World Cup final at the end of a consistent performance, underlining once again his expertise under the biggest of pressure.
0:52 Trevor Bayliss says Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer took responsibility on the biggest stage to help England win the World Cup
Gower has described the all-rounder as a “natural leader” and it is those qualities, coupled with his ability to deliver a wicket with the ball when it is needed most, run-scoring or even a remarkable catch. You just need to remember back to the World Cup or the last home Ashes series for examples.
Former Australia Test captain Ricky Ponting has earmarked Stokes as a key figure for the hosts, describing him as the “real heartbeat”.
2:54 Mark Butcher strums away to get you in the mood for the Ashes, which is live and exclusive on Sky Sports from August 1
CONFIDENCE BREEDS CONFIDENCE
Let’s not forget the first Test comes under three weeks after England won the men’s Cricket World Cup for the first time after an incredible World Cup final.
Nine members of the World Cup-winning squad are included in the squad for the first Test match and up to eight of those are realistically expected to start at Birmingham.
Australia do not have such positivity coming into the series. They were beaten on home soil by India, who had never previously won a Test series there, at the start of the year and missed out on defending their World Cup title, losing against England in the semi-final.