EIGHT KEY ISSUES THAT WILL GO A LONG WAY TO DECIDING THE WINNER OF THE FIRST ASHES TEST:
* Will the two sides get their selection calls right?
England are expected to stick with the same XI that drew the recent series with New Zealand 1-1, but Adil Rashid could debut. Australia have a handful of decisions to make, most notably whether Shane Watson or Mitch Marsh deserve to be the side’s allrounder. Rod Marsh and Darren Lehmann’s decisions will shape the game, even before the coin is tossed
* Win the toss and …?
Bowl, potentially. Clarke has floated the prospect of sending the hosts in given the state of the green pitch. It would be a bold decision. In Australia’s run of three series losses in England, the only time it’s happened was Ricky Ponting at Edgbaston in 2005. England made 407 on day one of that epic match that England won by two runs
* Youth or experience?
Clarke, Watson, Mitchell Johnson, Chris Rogers, Brad Haddin and Adam Voges are all potentially playing their last Ashes. Will their experience show in the clutch moments? Or will England’s youngsters find a way to test the mettle and fettle of ‘Dad’s Army’, as per Jason Gillespie’s suggestion
* Will Alastair Cook risk losing to win?
Much has been made of England’s intent in the recent ODI series against New Zealand, but Cook is now back in charge. No batsman has scored more runs for England, but the opener has a reputation of scoring slowly and playing it safe with fields and declarations. The hosts need to win the series to reclaim the urn. Will their leader adopt a more aggressive approach?
* Which side will take their chances in the field?
Darren Lehmann has predicted the best fielding side will go a long way to winning the series. Lehmann described his charges’ fielding as “shoddy, at best” at one point during summer, but they were noticeably better in that department against the West Indies. Can they repeat it when the stakes go up?
* Steve Smith or Joe Root – who would you rather have in your XI?
The answer probably depends on your nationality. They’re two of the best batsmen in the world and could easily be leading their respective sides when the next Ashes come around. Make no mistake, the form of these young guns will shape the series over the next two months
* Can Australia fill the void left by Ryan Harris?
Harris was never going to play the first Test due to a lack of match fitness, but his capacity to bowl so well in English conditions will be sorely missed. There’s no such thing as a like-for-like replacement for Harris, but Josh Hazlewood looms as the closest thing in the XI. Can Hazlewood step up in his first Ashes Test?
* Will there be scars left by Mitchell Johnson’s bounce barrage and 37 wickets in 2013-14?
England insist there won’t be. If the pitch remains green, that claim will come under serious scrutiny. The first Test will set the tone for the series in many regards, but this will be crucial. Can England dent Johnson’s confidence, or will he feel the same sense of indomitability that kicked in at the Gabba 20 months ago?