Australia and England are set to resume their battle in this double-Ashes year, with the two teams descending on Brisbane for the first Ashes Test of the Australian summer.
Venue: 'Gabba, Brisbane
Commences: Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013
Start time: 12 a.m. GMT (10 a.m. local)
Live on: Sky Sports 2
Weather: The Weather Channel is predicting fine conditions for the opening three days of the Test with top temperatures of 29, 28 and 28 degrees Celsius respectively. However, rain and possible thunderstorms have been forecast for the fourth and fifth days on Sunday and Monday.
One gets the sense that the opening Test of this Ashes series represents a defining moment in time for both Australia and England.
For Australia, the 'Gabba turf is the ideal place to show that the gains made during the back end of the English summer can begin to translate into triumph. While the Australians have displayed marked improvement under the guidance of new coach Darren Lehmann, honourable losses will quickly become tiresome for the game's fans Down Under.
Meanwhile, for England, this opening encounter is the first step toward cementing the team's Ashes legacy. With three consecutive series victories, this group has the opportunity to become the first England team in 80 years to win consecutive Ashes series on Australian soil.
Thus, this Test in Brisbane carries vital importance, particularly given the profound advantage that is won by claiming the opening battle of an Ashes duel.
Australia: Michael Clarke (c), George Bailey, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon, Peter Siddle, David Warner, Brad Haddin, James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson, Chris Rogers, Steven Smith, Shane Watson
England: Alastair Cook (c), James Anderson, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, Kevin Pietersen, Joe Root, Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott, Matt Prior, Jonny Bairstow, Ian Bell, Michael Carberry, Monty Panesar, Boyd Rankin, Ben Stokes, Chris Tremlett
Australia: Following on from his brutal 176 in the final Test of the previous series at The Oval, Shane Watson holds the key to the home side building a decisive first innings total.
At Brisbane—a venue where the new ball can cause trouble on the first morning—the No. 3 position carries significantly more weight than it does at other venues. With the pitch regularly favouring the batsmen after the opening session, Watson's ability to repel England's attack and build a platform for the middle order will have an enormous bearing on the outcome of this Test.
If the hard-hitting right-hander is dismissed cheaply, the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad will find themselves among Australia's middle order with the ball still moving around considerably.
However, if Watson can steer his way through the initial exchanges with the England attack, then a 500-plus total is very much achievable for the home side.
England: Since England's Ashes rise in 2005, the hallmark of the team's success over Australia has been their ability to capture bunches of wickets to reduce Australia's previously fabled batting lineup to rubble.
Think of Edgbaston in 2005, The Oval in 2009, Melbourne in 2010 and Chester-le-Street in 2013. In all of those matches, England have ripped through Australia with devastation to claim critically important victories
Stuart Broad holds the key to that happening again in Brisbane.
More than any other member of the visitors' attack, Broad possesses that unique capacity to elevate to an almost unplayable level when his tail is up. Watching him during the fourth Test in Durham this summer was like watching a tidal wave of momentum wash away any remnants of Australian hope.
If Broad is able to touch that spectacular level once more, England will be on their way to a convincing victory.
Australia: Without a single Test match appearance to his name, George Bailey is Australia's most unknown quantity heading into this opening encounter.
While his ODI record is simply outstanding (average of 54.96), the 31-year-old's first-class achievements are significantly short of what would normally constitute an Australian Test batsman.
Yet, despite that, Bailey's inclusion feels like a sensible one. His experience in captaining the side in the limited overs formats will undoubtedly bring much-needed leadership to the team alongside Michael Clarke.
Additionally, as a mature debutant, Bailey's no-fuss approach should bring a sense of calm and composure to the home side's middle order, complementing the exuberance that exists ahead of him.
Although many expect the ODI specialist to crumble, don't be surprised if he significantly alters the outcome of this Test.
England: Michael Carberry's insertion at the top of the order highlights England's overwhelming desire to enter the Ashes pantheon.
By selecting the 33-year-old left-hander, England's hierarchy is temporarily prioritising an immediate future over a distant one. While Joe Root is an incredibly exciting prospect at the top of England's order, the 22-year-old's expected shift to No. 6 in this series has paved way for the experienced Carberry to solidify England's top order.
Already in-form on the tour with an unbeaten hundred in Hobart, Carberry looks like a player set for a breakout performance; one which could potentially sway the opening Test England's way.
Mitchell Johnson vs. Jonathan Trott: Like Watson, Jonathan Trott's position at No. 3 will play a significant role in determining the extent of England's first innings total.
If England are to set the magnificent batting platform the team craves in Brisbane, Trott will have to overcome the threat of Mitchell Johnson.
In the ODI series at the back end of the English summer, Johnson's brutality was too much for Trott, who repeatedly succumbed to the left-armer's bruising, short-pitched approach.
Clearly uncomfortable against Johnson's blistering pace—not helped by his footwork at the crease—Trott was reduced to a weak link in that series by Australia's spearhead.
If Johnson can expose Trott once more, England's middle order will be at the crease far earlier than planned.
Nathan Lyon vs. Graeme Swann: Although Brisbane has always been known as a wicket favouring the seamers, the respective spinners in these teams will play an immensely important role during the middle days of this Test.
With the pitch likely to flatten out after the opening day, Nathan Lyon and Graeme Swann will be required to perform some heavy lifting for their captains in the baking Queensland sun.
However, that's not to suggest that their role will be about exhaustive containment. In fact, the 'Gabba pitch was Shane Warne's favourite surface in Australia; the prodigious leg-spinner boasting a record of 68 wickets from just 11 matches at the ground at an average of 20.30.
Warne enjoyed the extra bounce that his was afforded in Brisbane, as it brought the slips and men around the bat into play to a greater extent than other Australian wickets.
Of course, Lyon and Swann simply can't compare with Warne, but if either is able to use the bouncy 'Gabba pitch to unsettle opposition batsmen, their respective team will be well placed when day five arrives on Monday.
Nasser Hussain excluded, every captain wants to bat first when winning the toss in Brisbane.
With the 'Gabba's Test match strip set to be another batting haven, both teams look capable of compiling large first innings totals with extended time at the crease on days two and three.
Those friendly batting conditions combined with inclement weather predicted over the final two days may see this first Test end in a compelling, yet somewhat disappointing draw.