England gear up for Ashes challenge

November 22, 2017

The time for talking is almost over as England begin their Ashes defence at midnight tonight (November 22nd-23rd) in Brisbane.

Joe Root's men will be aiming to keep the famous urn they regained with a 3-2 series win in England in 2015, but the key to success down under could be avoiding defeat at the Gabba, nicknamed the 'Gabbatoir' for the way visiting teams are regularly beaten there. 

While the venue will be a cauldron of partisan noise, England will recall that they piled up 517-1 declared in drawing the 2010-11 Test there, a result that was followed by three victories as they won the Ashes in Australia for the first time since 1986-87, the series when they last won a Brisbane Test. 

Although Brisbane has been a bastion for Australia in recent years, England have had plenty of successes there down the years. Indeed, it was in the city - albeit at the Exhibition Ground, rather than the Gabba - that England set the record for the largest victory by any number of runs, no less than 675 in 1928. That match was also Donald Bradman's debut for Australia, although he made just 18 and 1 - and a man who was to be cricket's greatest ever run scorer was actually dropped for the next Test by a selection panel that really did include a Mr Bean.

Fans booking corporate hospitality for next year's final Test between England and India at the Kia Oval will certainly be keen to see England triumph down under. The south London venue was the birthplace of the Ashes when Australia won in England for the first time in 1882, prompting the infamous mock obituary in the Sporting Times declaring the death of English cricket and that the "body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia". 

England's captain for the following winter's tour, Ivo Bligh, declared he would bring the Ashes back and duly led England to a series win. He was then presented with the famous Ashes urn, the remains of a bail burned by a group of ladies from Melbourne. The encounter produced more than just cricket's most famous trophy; one of them took a shine to the England captain, the feeling was mutual, and she was subsequently to become Mrs Bligh. 

Curiously, Andrew Strauss, the most recent England captain to win the Ashes down under, is also married to an Aussie, as is opener Mark Stoneman, who has several years experience of playing club cricket in Australia but will be making his Ashes debut at Brisbane alongside Ball, Dawid Malan and James Vince. 

England's one selection dilemma had been whether to bring back Ball in place of Craig Overton, who played in all three warm-up games. Australia, however, have injury worries, with David Warner suffering a neck strain and Shaun Marsh a bad back. Glenn Maxwell has been called up as cover. 

The recent history of Brisbane and the fact that England have not won the Ashes in Australia after losing there since 1954-55 makes Australia the favourites. But in the rich history of Ashes cricket, many new chapters have been written to overturn past trends. Whatever transpires this time, the latest page is just about to be written.

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