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Preview: The Ashes: England vs. Australia First Test - prediction, team news

Sports Mole previews the opening Ashes Test of 2023 as England and Australia go head to head at Edgbaston in a quest to win the famous urn.

A revitalised England, under the leadership of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, will embark on their quest to win back the Ashes from their old enemy Australia, who romped to a 4-0 win in the last series.

The coveted five-match series will get underway at Edgbaston on Friday and marks the beginning of the 2023-25 ICC World Test Championship cycle, with the visitors coming into the match off the back of being crowned champions of the last edition after beating India last week.

Match preview

England's Ben Stokes during practice on June 13, 2023© Reuters

It was not too long ago that English Test cricket was falling off a cliff, a direction underlined by the hiding they received in last year's Ashes series and having only managed one win in 17 matches up to the appointment of McCullum as coach and Stokes as the captain.

The result of the introduction of the former New Zealand skipper to the backroom with Stokes by his side yielded an almost immediate response as the pair injected the side with a mindset that has never been seen in cricket's longest format.

The turning point came as McCullum began his reign following a 1-0 series loss to the West Indies in March last year, and the first victims of the new and improved 'Bazball' approach employed by the English was none other than his former team, the Black Caps.

England produced limited-over-like performances with spectacular run chases at record speeds to claim wins over New Zealand and South Africa last year before earning a historic series win over Pakistan in the subcontinent last December.

They have now won 11 of their last 13 Test matches, with one of their defeats coming against the Black Caps earlier this year, when they lost by a single run after an enthralling five days of back-and-forth action.

Despite their tremendous style of play, England's approach to Test matches certainly does leave them susceptible to the odd collapse, and while Bazball certainly provides incredible entertainment value, the astonishingly good bowling attack of the world champions will still fancy their chances of taming the English run machine.

Australia's Pat Cummins celebrates with the ICC Test Mace on the podium along with teammates after winning the World Test Championship final on June 11, 2023© Reuters

Meanwhile, the Aussies could not have chosen a better time for the Ashes to come around, as they will be brimming with confidence after their convincing win over India in the World Test Championship final a week ago.

Despite losing their most recent Test series 2-1 to the eventual runners-up, that series was held in the subcontinent, and India is not really a place that teams go to nowadays with much hope of victory in the longer format.

The final at The Oval last week proved to be the great equaliser as the Baggy Greens kept India on the back foot from the start of the match and put on an excellent display with bat and ball to win the trophy by 209 runs and become the first team in the world to win all three major ICC competitions.

It is tough to find a weak link in the Australian ranks, with Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith and Travis Head occupying the top three spots in the ICC Test Batting Rankings, respectively, while Usman Khawaja still remains one of the most in-form batsmen in the world despite his poor showing in the last match.

Smith scored an incredible 121 in 268 balls in the final last week, but Head stole the show with his own variation of aggressive batting, piling on 163 in just 174 balls which set the Aussies up for the rest of the match with a very defendable 469 in the first innings.

They also recorded victories over the West Indies and South Africa in the last year, and having had plenty of time to acclimatise themselves in England, the battle between Bazball and the Aussie's all-around solidity is going to be a fascinating one.

Team News

England's Moeen Ali with Stuart Broad during practice on June 13, 2023© Reuters

McCullum would have been faced with a number of tough calls in his decision-making process, chief of which would have been choosing between Stuart Broad or Mark Wood, with James Anderson and Ollie Robinson keeping their spots in the first team.

As it turns out, Broad received the nod, with McCullum confirming his starting 11 a few days ahead of the first match at Edgbaston.

Ben Duckett, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Joe Root and Harry Brook make up the top order, with Stokes and Jonny Bairstow providing the added explosive batting strength in the middle.

Jack Leach's injury forced a surprise call-up to the squad for Moeen Ali after an almost two-year retirement from Test cricket, and the spinner has been thrown straight into the thick of it, making the starting team alongside bowling partners Broad, Robinson and Anderson.

Andrew McDonald is yet to confirm his starting 11, but his major concern for this series will be over the fitness of star paceman Josh Hazlewood, who has struggled with a variety of injuries over the last year and a half, the most recent of which comes in the form of an Achilles strain.

While the 32-year-old may yet be passed fit, the chances of him returning directly to the starting team are far from secure after Scott Boland's strong showing in the WTC Final.

David Warner is the only top-order batsman that has been somewhat unconvincing in recent times, which has prompted the recall of Matt Renshaw to the squad, but the latter will likely join Michael Nesser, Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Harris as backup for the first match.

England squad: Ben Stokes (capt), Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ollie Pope, Joe Root, Harry Brook, Jonny Bairstow, Chris Woakes, Ollie Robinson, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Dan Lawrence, Matthew Potts, Josh Tongue, Mark Wood

Australia squad: Pat Cummins (capt), David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Scott Boland, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Josh Inglis, Mitchell Marsh, Matthew Renshaw

SM words green background

We say: Australia to win

Despite England's recent success in the longer format over the last year and a bit, the manner in which Australia beat India in the WTC final last week cannot be overlooked.

The Aussies lost four consecutive Ashes series in England between 2005 and 2015 before drawing in 2019, but we reckon they are in a much better place now and should go on to take a 1-0 lead in this one.

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