England's so-called 'golden generation' never quite delivered on the pitch, but there might still be hope for success in the coaching arena.

Sven-Goran Eriksson's side were beaten in the quarter-finals of three consecutive major tournaments from 2002 to 2006 despite being considered among the favourites.

However, with many of these involved now long since retired, management beckons.

And Wayne Rooney will join a number of former team-mates in taking on a coaching role after agreeing to move to Derby County as player-coach in January.

We take a look at other members of that England team who have taken to the touchline.

GARY NEVILLE

The first on this list is close to the least successful, with Neville sacked after just four months in charge at Valencia, returning to his previous role as a television pundit instead.

While just three wins in 16 LaLiga games saw the end of Gary, brother Phil remained at Valencia for a time as an assistant.

PHIL NEVILLE

Phil Neville also had experience with Manchester United, England Under-21s and Salford City by the time he was surprisingly appointed boss of England Women in January 2018.

The younger brother took the Lionesses to the last four at this year's Women's World Cup. Gareth Southgate, who featured sparingly at the start of Eriksson's era, is similarly impressing with the men's team.

SOL CAMPBELL

Former centre-back Campbell was repeatedly frustrated in his initial attempts to move into management, describing attitudes towards giving black players their first chance in coaching as "archaic" in 2013.

His opportunity finally arrived last year with Macclesfield Town, then bottom of the Football League. A superb turnaround saw the side stay up on the final day. "It's definitely up there with the things I've achieved in football," he said.

STEVEN GERRARD

While Campbell was made to wait for a lowly senior job, ex-colleague Gerrard went in at the top with one of Scotland's biggest clubs, taking over at Rangers at the start of last season.

Having left the Liverpool academy to take the post, Gerrard has a positive impact at Ibrox and led Rangers to their first win over rivals Celtic in six years. He could not prevent the Hoops completing a historic treble-treble, though.

PAUL SCHOLES

Definitely not a success. Scholes' stint at boyhood club Oldham Athletic made Gary Neville's Valencia stretch look steady, with the former midfielder gone after just 31 days.

It was Scholes' decision to quit, as he explained: "It unfortunately became clear that I would not be able to operate as I intended and was led to believe prior to taking on the role."

FRANK LAMPARD

Chelsea favourite Lampard has the potential to be the biggest success of all, having been handed the reigns at Stamford Bridge ahead of the 2019-20 season.

Lampard led Derby to within a whisker of promotion in the play-off final, earning a chance at Chelsea as they prepare for a tough campaign impacted by a transfer ban. His Derby departure allowed for Phillip Cocu to come in and bring in Rooney.

THE REST...

It might only be a matter of time before John Terry has a senior role. He is an assistant at Aston Villa and was linked to the Middlesbrough job, which instead went to former team-mate and fellow rookie Jonathan Woodgate .

Meanwhile, at Manchester United, both Nicky Butt and Michael Carrick form part of the coaching staff.

David James operated as a player-coach at IBV, had a short stint at Luton Town and then took over at Kerala Blasters while continuing in goal. James then returned to the Indian side in 2018 but was sacked after an 11-match winless run.

Darius Vassell has a role at Wolves, Joe Cole is at Chelsea, and Kieron Dyer is part of the Ipswich Town set-up.

Wayne Rooney's MLS career will be cut short in January after he agreed a deal to leave DC United for Derby County.

The former England captain has turned DC's fortunes around since moving stateside just over a year ago, but he will take up a player-coach role with the Championship club in 2020.

United will hope he can continue to perform in the mean time as they chase a playoff place this season.

And Rooney's displays to date in the United States capital suggest he may well prove inspirational, as these Opta numbers show.

43 - Rooney might now be 33 but he is a near ever-present for DC, playing 43 matches for the club so far, joint-second in MLS during that time.

23 - The former Manchester United man played in a deeper role at times before moving to MLS, but he has been a striker at DC and has scored 23 times in MLS. Only three players have scored more in that spell.

21.3 - Rooney, by scoring 23, has bettered his xG, although that statistic also has him fourth in MLS over that time.

19 - Of his strikes, Rooney has scored 19 times with his right foot. That is the most of any MLS star since he left Everton.

6 - The ex-England ace is renowned for his ability to shoot from distance and that is evident in another two statistics in which he has led the way in MLS. He has scored more goals from outside the box (six) than any other player, with more of those (four) coming from direct free-kicks than any rival.

14 - Rooney can be a creator, too, though, and he has laid on 14 assists in a DC shirt. He has created 101 chances in all.

37 - The combined figure of goals and assists puts Rooney tied for second for goal involvements since joining DC. Los Angeles FC's runaway MVP candidate Carlos Vela (50) is the only player with more. He has been involved in 53.6 per cent of his team's goals.

13 - DC have won 13 points thanks to Rooney's goals this season, a figure that puts him second in MLS. Only Zlatan Ibrahimovic (20), his former Manchester United team-mate at LA Galaxy, has had a greater hand in his team's success.

121 - Rooney has been effective without needing to have every match run through him. Of those MLS players to play at least 16 games since his arrival, Rooney (56.5) ranks 121st for touches per game.

Wayne Rooney's illustrious career will continue back in England when he leaves DC United and joins Derby County in a player-coach capacity in January.

Rooney has been a key man for DC in just over a year in MLS so far, but news of a return home with Derby in the Championship quickly developed before the move was announced on Tuesday.

The 33-year-old burst onto the scene as a teenager with boyhood club Everton before going on to become Manchester United's all-time leading scorer, managing 253 goals in 559 appearances in all competitions.

His 13-year stay at United - which included winning the Premier League, Champions League and both domestic cups - ended in 2017 when he returned to Goodison Park, giving him the opportunity to play again for the team where it all began, before moving on to become the latest big-name star in MLS.

From an unforgettable first league hit to a long-range lob via a moment of Manchester derby magic, we take a look back at Rooney's top 10 goals from his club career.

 

Arsenal (H): October 19, 2002

Talk about making an instant impact. A fresh-faced Rooney, wearing a shirt appearing to be several sizes too big, scored his maiden league goal in stunning fashion for Everton - and against England's first-choice goalkeeper at the time, too.

Arsenal had arrived at Goodison Park on a 30-game unbeaten run in the Premier League but came unstuck against the Toffees due to a moment of brilliance, as a 16-year-old substitute turned a hopeful punt forward from Thomas Gravesen into one of the most memorable moments in the competition's history.

Rooney controlled the ball on the left, spun around quickly and then, after taking the opportunity to line up the target, arched a curling shot beyond David Seaman that found the net via the underside of the bar.

 

Fenerbahce (H): September 28, 2004

If United fans were unsure if an 18-year-old Rooney was worth a reported £25.6million outlay, a hat-trick on his Old Trafford debut went some way to quieten the doubters.

Rooney opened the scoring in the match - a Champions League group game against Fenerbahce - with a well-taken first-time finish, before doubling his tally with a clever turn and precise shot before half-time.

The pick of the goals, however, came in the second half. After wrestling the ball away from more established stars including Ryan Giggs, Rooney set himself before bending a 20-yard free-kick over the wall and beyond Rustu Recber, sending the home fans into raptures.

 

Middlesbrough (H): January 29, 2005

Rooney boasts two candidates in a list of his top United goals from this 3-0 FA Cup victory, and his stunning volley in the closing stages of the match came close to making the cut here.

However, the place must be reserved for a moment of magic 67 minutes in. Gary Neville slid a pass through to Rooney on the break, and, some 40 yards from goal, he chipped the ball up and over the stranded Mark Schwarzer and into the back of the net.

United went on to reach the final - Rooney's first - where they lost on penalties to Arsenal.

 

Newcastle United (H): April 24, 2005

Often criticised for moments of petulance, especially early in his career, it paid off for Rooney in spades against Newcastle.

United, behind to a Darren Ambrose goal and struggling for fluidity, were becoming increasingly frustrated in their search for an equaliser as the Old Trafford crowd made their feelings clear.

Rooney's own irritation threatened to boil over as he berated referee Neale Barry, but he immediately turned that anger onto the football itself as he blasted in a volley beyond Shay Given after Peter Ramage's header looked to have cleared the danger.

United went on to win 2-1 thanks to a Wes Brown goal.

 

Portsmouth (H): January 27, 2007

Luck seemed to be against United in this FA Cup clash at Old Trafford, especially when Nemanja Vidic and Henrik Larsson both had goals controversially ruled out and visiting goalkeeper David James produced a string of good saves.

It was Rooney, however, who turned the game on its head with two goals in the final 13 minutes - the second of which was a moment of magic.

Having tapped in Giggs' cross to give United the lead six minutes earlier, Rooney collected the ball 25 yards from goal and sent a stunning chip over James and into the far corner.

Manager Alex Ferguson hailed Rooney's sheer audacity for attempting the effort, comparing it to Eric Cantona's famous strike against Sunderland 11 years previous. Around Old Trafford, praise doesn't get much higher than that.

 

Manchester City (H): February 12, 2011

Described by United prodigy Marcus Rashford as the best goal he has ever seen, Rooney's strike to secure a 2-1 win over Manchester City was as important as it was spectacular.

David Silva's deflected shot had cancelled out Nani's opener in a tense derby at Old Trafford but, with only 12 minutes remaining, Rooney produced a moment of magic to snatch the victory and send his side four points clear of Arsenal at the top of the table.

Nani's cross from the right took a deflection, and Rooney, adjusting his body position on the edge of the area, met the ball with a sensational bicycle kick to send it crashing past Joe Hart and into the top corner.

The goal, which was named as the greatest in Premier League history in 2012, took United a step closer to their 19th top-flight title.

 

West Ham (A): March 22, 2014

There were certainly not many moments to shout about for United during David Moyes' single season in charge, but Rooney's goal away to West Ham drew plenty of superlatives.

Ashley Young cleared the ball to just inside the Hammers' half, where Rooney, having outmuscled James Tomkins, unleashed an incredible half-volley that flew over the head of Adrian and into the net.

The goal was compared to David Beckham's audacious halfway-line lob of Wimbledon goalkeeper Neil Sullivan, which had brought Selhurst Park to its feet 18 years earlier. Beckham was even in the stands at Upton Park to witness Rooney's moment of genius.

The strike moved Rooney to third in United's all-time scoring list, behind only Bobby Charlton and Denis Law, but it did little to brighten the mood at Old Trafford during a dismal campaign. Indeed, Moyes was sacked exactly one month later.

 

Stoke City (A): January 21, 2017

Rooney came off the bench after 67 minutes in place of Juan Mata and made a late impact.

It appeared to be an afternoon of frustration for Jose Mourinho's men, who dominated at the bet365 Stadium, only for the 31-year-old to grab a 94th-minute equaliser in stunning fashion and put his name in lights.

Rooney lined up a free-kick on the left of the area and, with Stoke goalkeeper Lee Grant perhaps expecting a cross, whipped a stunning set-piece into the top corner for a goal which saw him become United's all-time leading scorer.

 

West Ham (H): November 29, 2017

"It was a no-brainer for me and the only place I was going to go," Rooney said after sealing his return to Everton, 13 years after an acrimonious departure. 

The comeback did not quite go according to the script - Everton's grand plans to push for the top six quickly fell apart, with manager Ronald Koeman departing early in the campaign - but Rooney still made it to double figures, scoring 10 goals despite often occupying a deeper role.

The best of the lot completed a hat-trick against West Ham at Goodison Park, as the experienced forward intercepted Hart's clearance before lobbing the ball over the head of the stranded goalkeeper and into the unguarded net. The perfectly weighted strike, made from inside his own half, was a reminder of how, even while no longer in his prime, he was still able to produce magical moments.

 

Orlando City (H): June 26, 2019

Just as Rooney executed two stunning long-range strikes against West Ham in the Premier League, he saved two of his best moments in MLS for home games against Orlando.

A 2018 run to the playoffs was kickstarted by Rooney's incredible last-gasp assist when he hunted down Will Johnson, sprinting towards an open DC United goal, to make a stunning tackle, then supplying an inch-perfect lofted assist from halfway.

In the same fixture in June this year, and from similar distance, the former England captain did it all himself.

Few players have had such a record of consistently netting from inside their own half, with Rooney adding another as he profited on a mix-up between two Orlando players and drilled past Brian Rowe to end DC's five-match winless run.

After a thrilling Hungarian Grand Prix, it is time for the Formula One teams to take a well-earned break.

Lewis Hamilton's victory in Budapest further strengthened his grip on top spot in the standings, putting him on course to claim a third successive world title and the sixth of his F1 career.

However, Max Verstappen's performances in the previous two races offer hope that we may still get some sort of title race, with Red Bull and Ferrari desperately hoping to close the gap on the outstanding Mercedes.

The mid-season pause in proceedings allows the teams a chance to take stock and assess their season so far. With that in mind, we have graded their performances to date.

 

MERCEDES

Hamilton's success in Hungary was his eighth triumph in 2019. The Briton has 250 points for the season and continues to set a high bar in terms of driving standards. Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel share the record for most wins in a season (13), so the reigning champion may end up more focused on setting new benchmarks than coping with his rivals on the grid. As for team-mate Valtteri Bottas, he may sit second in the standings but his future with the team was a major talking point heading into the break. Reserve driver Esteban Ocon is waiting in the wings for an opportunity in 2020.

Grade: A. Do not let standards slip – and work out who you want to sit with next year.

FERRARI

It has been an eventful and inconsistent campaign for Ferrari, who can no longer see Mercedes in the distance when it comes to the constructors' title and instead are looking over their shoulder at an in-form Red Bull catching them for second place. They have failed to win a race so far and have, at times, appeared unwilling to admit the highly promising Charles Leclerc is the (prancing) horse to back ahead of experienced campaigner Vettel. The break will allow time to try to work out what they need to do to become competitive on all circuits again.

Grade: D. Must try harder if results are to improve.

RED BULL

Does the break help or hinder Red Bull? Verstappen's performances in contrasting conditions in Germany – where he emerged triumphant at the end of a chaotic race – and Hungary suggest the car is in good shape, despite being unable to hold off a fast-finishing Hamilton at the Hungaroring. The Dutchman – so often backed by fanatical and colourful support in the crowd at European races – has dazzled, but the same cannot be said for colleague Pierre Gasly, who has registered just 63 points and has failed to record a podium finish.

Grade: B. Max effort required from all involved from now on.

McLAREN

Eight-time winners of the constructors' title, McLaren have made strides in the first half of the year, even if neither of their drivers are yet creating much of a ripple when it comes to actually winning a race. Still, Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr have impressed, the latter finishing in the points in eight races. While a trio of retirements have hampered Norris, the British teenager will have learned plenty in the opening months of his F1 career. 

Grade: B+. Good signs so far - keep it up!

TORO ROSSO

The only team outside of the top three to earn a spot on the podium this season. That came in Germany, where Daniil Kvyat earned some redemption. After being dropped by Red Bull and then losing his seat at Toro Rosso before returning this year, he is now being linked with a return to his previous team. Rookie Alex Albon has often found himself in the hunt for points and the pair enjoyed an entertaining tussle at the Hungarian Grand Prix, with good clean racing helping to keep them in the midfield battle.

Grade: C. Keep pushing and beware of envious siblings.

RENAULT

Yet to register a podium finish and out-performed by McLaren, things have not gone to plan. Technical issues have hampered their progress, but this is not what Daniel Ricciardo expected following his arrival. The Australian, along with Nico Hulkenberg, has barely figured at the head of the field. In something of an understatement, team principal Cyril Abiteboul admitted following Hungary that the first half of the year was "well below" their objectives. You don't say, Cyril...

Grade: F. See teacher for extra homework.

ALFA ROMEO

Not much was expected following Alfa Romeo's return to F1, but Kimi Raikkonen has done his utmost to keep them relevant. Former world champion Raikkonen has amassed a respectable 31 points, though team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi has been unable to match such assured displays. They need the 25-year-old Italian to start picking up points, and he may want to do so for the benefit of his own career, too.

Grade: D. Work better as a team.

RACING POINT

Having made a strong start after the takeover in the middle of last season, Racing Point appear to have taken a backwards step in 2019. Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll – whose father purchased the team – have been distinctly average and lacked consistency, the Canadian scoring their only points in the past eight races with top-10 finishes at Montreal and Hockenheim.

Grade: E. Do not rely on your parents for help.

HAAS

After improvements each year since joining the grid in 2016, Haas have been unable to maintain the momentum. Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean have both taken points at the same race just twice this season, though the main cause for concern will be the seven retirements in the first half of the campaign.

Grade: E. Be more reliable.

WILLIAMS

This season can already be considered a write-off for Williams. They struggled to even get a car ready for pre-season testing and have had to start from the back of the grid, more often than not due to a lack of pace. Robert Kubica scored their only point in Germany but George Russell remains on zero.

Grade: F. Prepare for re-sits next year!

Harry Maguire has capped his stunning rise by joining Manchester United in a deal reportedly worth £80million on Monday.

The fee makes Maguire the most expensive defender in football history, eclipsing the reported £75m Virgil van Dijk cost Liverpool from Southampton.

Considering Maguire was playing League One football with Sheffield United in 2014, it has been a remarkable few years for the Yorkshireman.

Maguire is also now established in the England team as the first-choice partner at the back for Manchester City defender John Stones.

Here, we chart his progress from third-tier centre-back to the world's priciest defender.

 

Hometown hero with the Blades

Maguire broke into the Sheffield United team at the end of the 2010-2011 season, making five appearances as the Blades were relegated from the Championship.

A year later Maguire was included in the Professional Footballers' Association's League One Team of the Year and clubs began to sniff around the teenager.

Wolves were linked with a move for Maguire but he instead switched to Hull City for £2.5m, joining the club at the same time as Andrew Robertson arrived from Dundee United for a similar fee. Maguire has continued to show support for his hometown club on social media.


Relegation and promotion at Hull

The Tigers had been promoted to the Premier League when Maguire joined, but he struggled to break into the backline and was sent on loan to Championship side Wigan Athletic, where he made 16 appearances - the team conceding only 22 goals when he played.

Hull bounced back with an immediate promotion. Maguire featured 24 times but was named on the bench for their play-off final defeat of Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley, before continuing to nail down his place in the following top-flight campaign.

Although Hull were relegated again, the Tigers keeping just four clean sheets in Maguire's 29 appearances, he impressed enough - being named the club's Player of the Year - to earn the second transfer of his career.


Leicester grab a £17m bargain

It was Leicester up next for Maguire after they reportedly paid £12m up front for the defender in a deal that included a further £5m in add-ons. He was ever-present in his first Foxes campaign, helping Leicester to keep nine clean sheets.

During November of the 2016-17 season, he won his first England caps, starting for Gareth Southgate's side in goalless draws against Brazil and Germany to stake his claim for World Cup selection at Russia 2018.

Fine displays from Maguire earned him Leicester's 2017-18 Player of the Season and Players' Player of the Season awards and United were then linked with a big-money move.


World Cup heroics and meme star

Southgate took Maguire to Russia and made him a starter for the Three Lions, with the defender appearing in all seven of England's matches at the World Cup.

Maguire went viral on social media when a photograph of him with girlfriend Fern Hawkins was turned into a meme, while he scored in England's defeat of Sweden in the quarter-finals.

But there was disappointment for Maguire and his international team-mates as Croatia proved too strong after extra time in the last four.


Most expensive defender in the world

Leicester were able to rebuff strong interest in Maguire from United and he continued to improve in the 2018-19 campaign, winning 78.1 per cent of his aerial battles - the most in the Premier League - to further establish a reputation as a dominant defender in the air.

Despite his massive size, Maguire is also strong on the floor. His 16 dribbles completed was the most in the Premier League among centre-backs, although making four errors that led to shots indicated he is not yet the finished package.

Regardless, with Van Dijk's record fee pushing the asking price for high-class defenders up, United elected to make Maguire the most expensive English player after rivals Manchester City pulled out of the race.

Now it is up to the 26-year-old to prove he deserves that massive £80m price tag.

Gabriel Jesus was standing on the touchline, yet to enter the fray. Sergio Aguero got back in his seat on the bench behind the Brazil forward and Leroy Sane started to hobble from view – perhaps for the last time in a Manchester City shirt.

And yet, despite being momentarily down to 10 men and without those three lavishly gifted attacking allies, Raheem Sterling scored to put his team 1-0 up against Liverpool in the Community Shield – David Silva providing the assist with a cute flick.

It was a moment to show the staggering depth of attacking capabilities at Pep Guardiola's disposal and why – if certain reports are to be believed – Sane has had his head turned by Bayern Munich's interest.

Sane's presence in the City starting line-up was notable given the conjecture over his future, while the abrupt end to his Wembley outing does none of the parties concerned any favours.

The 23-year-old seemed keen to let his football do the talking as he darted on to Sterling's early pass to rattle a shot into the side netting, before running in behind Trent Alexander-Arnold and having a cross blocked.

England right-back Alexander-Arnold had a torrid time of things during the opening exchanges but there was no malice in the foul that left Sane stricken. Indeed it was one of those to file under "innocuous", making the Germany winger's plea for immediate attention all the more concerning.

City then enjoyed their best period of the contest, with Sterling and Bernardo Silva restored to the wide berths they were trusted with ahead of Sane during a flawless title run-in last season.

Even before considering the pull of Bayern for any German player, it makes the appeal obvious. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery riding off into the sunset mean the Bundesliga kings need a main man. That would be Sane who, for all his gifts, will never enjoy similar status under Guardiola.

As City weigh up whether or not to budge on their asking price, they will do so in the context of title rivalry set to rest on the finest of margins.

Is keeping a potentially unhappy and uncooperative Sane more of a danger than having a squad without his thrilling, game-breaking ability. Pick the wrong side of that equation and Liverpool are likely to capitalise.

Lacking the stifling high-stakes of their Premier League encounters last season, the first half at Wembley was notably looser and – certainly from a Liverpool perspective – more error-strewn.

But, as was the case in the title race, City could not convincingly shake them. Virgil van Dijk clattered the underside of the crossbar, Liverpool suddenly fizzing with a verve to belie their earlier torpor.

Mohamed Salah then hit the post having passed up three earlier chances, while showing Oleksandr Zinchenko left-back duties can be a wretched endeavour on a full-time basis. A weakness spotted, noted and logged.

Any equaliser always felt likely to come at the expense of Zinchenko and Nicolas Otamendi, who were collectively porous on the left of City's back four in the absence of Aymeric Laporte. Joel Matip being the man to exploit the opportunity was a surprise.

Claudio Bravo - also arguably culpable on the goal - saved from Naby Keita and Salah as City ended the 90 minutes smothered in a red rash, barely able to find the respite of the opposition half.

Having the outlet of an explosive, destructive left winger might have helped at that stage. A player with four goals in five Premier League appearances against Liverpool, including a priceless winner last term. Suddenly life without Sane didn't look so good.

As Kyle Walker's remarkable airborne clearance in stoppage time showed – an act eerily reminiscent of John Stones' heart-stopping heroics when the sides met in Manchester in January – there will remain little between these two formidable teams.

Title retained by one point; Community Shield retained by one penalty as Bravo denied Georginio Wijnaldum and City netted a perfect five. Any tweak to this delicate balance will shake English football's new centre of gravity.

City appear to have the ball in their court in the Sane saga. They have to be certain they make the right call.

Steve Smith has continually tormented England and the Australia star added to the list with one of his best centuries in the first Ashes Test.

Smith produced his 24th Test ton at the perfect time, rescuing the tourists from a poor position on the opening day at Edgbaston on Thursday.

This surely ranked as one of Smith's finest knocks and marked his ninth century in Ashes Tests, a tally bettered only by Don Bradman (19), Jack Hobbs (12) and Steve Waugh (10).

We take a look at Smith's five best Ashes centuries.

2019 Ashes, first Test: 144 in Birmingham

This will rank as one of Smith's finest in his career, not just against England. Playing his first Test since a ball-tampering ban, Smith was booed by the locals and quickly found the team he used to captain floundering. He arrived at the crease at 17-2 and was running out of partners as Australia were reduced to 122-8, their chances of starting the series with a win deteriorating. Smith was only on 42 when Pat Cummins fell, but he managed to put on an 88-run stand with Peter Siddle (44) and 74-run partnership with Nathan Lyon (12), making a 144 featuring 16 fours and two sixes to get the tourists to 284.

2017-18 Ashes, first Test: 141* in Brisbane

Ashes openers just happen to be Smith's thing. The right-hander also set the tone for the 2017-18 series at home, comfortably scoring the most runs as Australia claimed a 4-0 success. With England bowled out for 302, Smith arrived at the Gabba crease with his team 30-2 in response. As he so often has, he carried his nation with a superb unbeaten 141 – none of his team-mates made more than 51 – to help Australia to an unlikely first-innings lead and later, a 10-wicket victory.

2017-18 Ashes, third Test: 239 in Perth

Smith made 687 runs during this series and Shaun Marsh was the second highest scorer … with 445. As England marvelled at centuries from Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow after batting first in Perth, Smith – in at a slightly better but still not great position at 55-2 – delivered a career-best 239 in a series-clinching win. He put on a 301-run partnership with Mitchell Marsh (181) as Australia took a 3-0 series lead.

2015 Ashes, second Test: 215 in London

Already trailing 1-0 in the series, Australia needed a response at Lord's and they got one on the opening day thanks to Smith and Chris Rogers. Smith would go on to post 215 and the opener made 173 as Australia reached 566-8 before declaring but having taken complete control of the Test. There was no way back for England and Smith also belted a 48-ball 58 in the second innings to level a series the hosts would go on to win.

2013-14 Ashes, third Test: 111 in Perth

England in Perth has been to Smith's liking and his century helped Australia wrap up a series win in 2013-14. At 106-3, the hosts were in a solid position but needed their middle-order to stand up and Smith, as usual, did just that. His 111 was the only century by any batsman in the first innings and, during what was an otherwise quiet series by his standards, Smith managed to deliver again as Australia romped to a 5-0 win.

The others...
2013 Ashes, fifth Test: 138* in London
2013-14 Ashes, fifth Test: 115 in Sydney
2015 Ashes, fifth Test: 143 in London
2017-18 Ashes, fourth Test: 102* in Melbourne

Ever since that fateful day at Newlands in March, Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft have come to be defined by the ball-tampering episode that marred Australia's series in South Africa.

It is an unfair aspect of being in the public eye that one mistake can tend to overshadow the achievements that lead athletes to reach such a position of prominence in the first place and, having served lengthy bans, the Australia trio have had little opportunity to repair their images with stellar on-field showings.

Warner did so somewhat in the Cricket World Cup and Bancroft has impressed on the significantly smaller stage of County Championship Division Two but for Smith, the most admired of thet riumvirate prior to the saga that rocked Australian cricket, his redemption moment had not been forthcoming.

That was until Thursday, the opening day of the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston, where Smith brilliantly and at times brutally wrested back control of his own narrative with one of the finest and most memorable hundreds in the history of cricket's most prestigious series.

Even as one of the best batsmen on the planet, it would have been easy for Smith to wilt under the pressure in front of the raucous Birmingham crowd, one keen to remind of him of the Cape Town incident at every opportunity, and he had plenty of chances to do so.

He could have done so at 35-3, with Warner and Bancroft having already departed and England smelling blood, as they were after the hosts ripped through the rest of the middle order to leave Australia 122-8.

Nobody would have been overly critical of Smith had his resistance ended at that point. However, he was clearly in no mood for his innings to be in vain.

So often visibly angered by his dismissals during Australia's ultimately unsuccessful World Cup campaign, throughout his 219-ball stay Smith had the look of a man fuelled by desperation and determination for the focus to be shifted firmly back on to what he does best.

That much was evident in the indignant look he aimed towards umpire Aleem Dar as Smith emphatically and correctly signalled for a review after being given out lbw on 34, and in the way he ruthlessly took the game to a tiring England attack late in the day, racking up 16 fours and a pair of sixes and showing little regard for the spin of Moeen Ali and Joe Denly.

What made his contribution even more impressive was the way he counter-attacked while perfectly managing the situation, farming the strike and forming partnerships of 88 and 74 with tailenders Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon to take Australia to 284 all out.

It was an innings befitting a captain. Though Smith no longer wears the armband, it was he who stood up and delivered when Australia most needed a saviour and, even in a stadium filled with boo-boys, there were few who begrudged him his moment when he brought up his 24th Test century with a glorious cover drive.

For all England's admirable exploits with the ball, it is the image of Smith standing arms aloft soaking in the adulation that is the abiding one of the opening day of the series. For all the sandpaper cards, jeers and chants about him "crying on the telly", it is Smith's remarkable display of obduracy and craftsmanship that will claim the headlines in England and Down Under.

What happened in South Africa will always be a part of his journey but, with the spotlight now back on his batting brilliance, Smith is finally the author of his own story once again.

The opening day of the 2019 Ashes was one for Aleem Dar and Joel Wilson to forget as the umpires made a host of incorrect decisions at Edgbaston.

We take a look at the seven errors made by the two on-field officials on Thursday, as Australia made 284 all out.

 

1.1 overs: David Warner is given not out by umpire Dar despite getting a thin edge down the leg side from Stuart Broad. In fairness to Dar, wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow was the only England player to appeal with any gusto.

3.5 overs: Four balls after surviving an England review, Warner is adjudged lbw to Broad by Dar for two. The opener barely consults his partner Cameron Bancroft before walking off, but replays show he should have reviewed the decision, with Broad's delivery projected to slide past leg stump.

14.2 overs: Umpire Wilson turns down a vociferous appeal after England think they have Usman Khawaja caught behind off Chris Woakes. On this occasion, the hosts' review is successful as UltraEdge picks up the finest of edges from Australia's number three.

33.5 overs: England are joyous as Smith pads up to a Broad delivery and Dar raises the finger. An aghast Smith reviews almost immediately and the decision is justified, with HawkEye showing the ball missing off stump.

34.6 overs: The latest umpiring howler arrives just seven balls later. This time, Wilson turns down an lbw appeal from Woakes against Matthew Wade. England review and another on-field decision is overturned.

39.6 overs: Dar decides James Pattinson is lbw to Broad. The batsman opts against a review, perhaps due to the presence of key man Smith at the other end, but replays again show the ball would have missed leg stump.

46.1 overs: Peter Siddle is lbw to Woakes, according to Wilson. A review proves the umpire wrong as a massive inside edge is revealed.

Ajax thrilled Europe last season with their exciting brand of attacking football and almost delivered an incredible treble.

Erik ten Hag's side won the Eredivisie and the KNVB Beker while beating Real Madrid and Juventus en route to the Champions League semi-finals, where they were seconds away from seeing off Tottenham, too.

However, as expected, Ajax have seen their most impressive performers depart in the aftermath of a sensational campaign. Frenkie de Jong linked up with Barcelona as Juve signed Matthijs de Ligt.

It appears unlikely Ajax will be able to reach the same heights again in the coming season, but they have been able to spend in the transfer market after raking in more than €150million in fees for their young talents.

Reinforcements have arrived and, with the help of Opta, we put the new-look Dutch champions under the microscope. 

 

Razvan Marin

It looks as though Ajax have found their De Jong replacement in the form of Romania midfielder Marin. Some smart forward-thinking saw a deal done for the 23-year-old to arrive from Standard Liege in April, with De Jong's switch to Barca also agreed in advance.

Marin completed 732 successful passes in the opposition half last season, the fourth most among all Belgian Pro League players.

Quincy Promes

As well as De Ligt and De Jong played last season, moves for experienced campaigners Daley Blind and Dusan Tadic were also seen as key. Ajax have gone back to the well to sign established Netherlands winger Promes from Sevilla for €15.7m.

Promes did not initially hit the ground running in LaLiga but ended the season having created 1.6 chances per 90 minutes, a tally only bettered by Pablo Sarabia among those to play 1000 minutes or more.

Lisandro Martinez

Ajax have made a number of moves in order to plug the sizeable gap left by De Ligt in the heart of their defence and one of those saw Martinez arrive from Defensa y Justicia.

Only one player completed more passes than the one-cap Argentina international (1285) in the 2018-19 Argentine Superliga.

Edson Alvarez

Another defender on board for the new season is the versatile Alvarez, who left Club America and already has 28 caps for Mexico at the tender age of 21. He appears in line for a starting role given the €15m outlay just days after De Ligt's departure.

Alvarez should certainly provide some bite, having won 105 individual duels in the 2019 Liga MX Clausura, the second most in the competition.

Kik Pierie

Pierie will also compete for minutes, though, after the youngster left Heerenveen. Ajax will hope he can be half as successful as De Jong, another who joined from an Eredivisie rival as a teenager.

The American-born Pierie, 19, played 62 times in the top flight for Heerenveen. Only Arnold Bruggink (18 years and 299 days) has made as many appearances for the club at a younger age.

Nicolas Pepe outperformed standards set by Eden Hazard at Lille and the hard data suggests Arsenal have snared a worthy Premier League heir to the brilliant Belgian.

The Gunners fought off competition from Napoli and others to sign Ivory Coast international Pepe for a reported £72million, completing the highly anticipated deal on Thursday.

It is an extreme outlay that could come to look like a savvy investment as Unai Emery adds further firepower to a fearsome front line.

Here, we dive into the Opta numbers to discover just why Arsenal have spent so big to secure the 24-year-old as their new record signing.

The complete attacking package

Comfortable playing on either flank or through the middle, Pepe is swiftly becoming a high-achieving model of the modern forward.

The former Angers player struck 14 times in all competitions during a breakthrough 2017-18 campaign before announcing his arrival into a higher echelon with a match-winning hat-trick away to Amiens in September.

That form continued throughout the season as Pepe's remarkable return of 22 goals lifted Lille from 17th to second in the space of 12 months.

And there is plenty more than pure goals for Arsenal fans to get excited about.

Pepe tallied the second most assists in Ligue 1 last season with 11. For new team-mates Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, that is a figure worth fawning over. 

Indeed, across Europe's top five leagues in 2018-19, only Lionel Messi (49), Kylian Mbappe (40) and Fabio Quagliarella (34) surpassed Pepe's combined number of goals and assists (33).

For comparison, Real Madrid's freshly minted Galactico Hazard managed 31.

King of the counter

Emery's men will be tough to catch in the Premier League this season - at least as far as their fleet-footed forwards are concerned.

Aubameyang and Lacazette alone present enough headaches for defences wishing to push high up the pitch and adding Pepe to the equation significantly increases Arsenal's threat on the counter.

The new man scored six goals and attempted 15 shots from fast breaks last season, second in both categories in the big five leagues to Paris Saint-Germain star Mbappe.

Pepe's ability to breeze past defenders and be first to loose balls also saw him win five penalties - one behind Wilfried Zaha's six - and 108 fouls, the most in Ligue 1.

Ex-Chelsea talisman Hazard was fouled 104 times during his final season in the Premier League.

Ice cool from the spot

There was agony for Aubameyang in March when he failed to beat Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris from the spot with a golden late chance to win the north London derby at Wembley.

Such frustration might become a thing of the past.

Along with being a prolific penalty winner, Pepe converted nine spot-kicks last season, ranking him second to nerveless Crystal Palace midfielder Luka Milivojevic (10) across the top five leagues in Europe.

Among that number was a technically adept effort with the gaze of the Parc des Princes - including Gianluigi Buffon 12 yards away - trained in his direction.

Expectations at Emirates Stadium are bound to be high, but Pepe appears to have the temperament and skill set to make this new, potentially career-making move a resounding success.

Arsenal's £72million signing of in-demand forward Nicolas Pepe not only smashed the club's transfer record but also represented a statement of intent.

The Gunners have not won the Premier League since 2004 but will be hopeful the arrival of Pepe can help them bridge the gap between themselves and the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool.

The 24-year-old Ivory Coast international dazzled in Ligue 1 last term, scoring 22 goals in 38 appearances and adding a host of assists as Lille finished second.

Pepe's capture should ensure Arsenal, who can already call upon the quality of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, are a constant attacking threat.

Aubameyang and Lacazette are indeed two of the names to feature on Arsenal's list of big-money signings and here we take a look at how those high-profile arrivals have fared.

 

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (from Borussia Dortmund in 2018 for £56m)

The Gabon international has proved an astute signing, even at a significant cost, with 32 goals in his first 49 Premier League matches. The 30-year-old's speed causes major concern for opponents and he also scored eight goals in the Europa League last term as Arsenal reached the final.

Alexandre Lacazette (from Lyon in 2017 for £46.5m)

Lacazette's goalscoring ratio is far from bad – he has 27 in 69 Premier League appearances – but Arsenal may have hoped for more from a forward who netted 20 or more Ligue 1 goals in three successive seasons for Lyon. When paired together by Unai Emery, the Frenchman has worked very well with Aubameyang, with the addition of Pepe into the mix sure to bring another dimension to Arsenal's play.

Mesut Ozil (from Real Madrid in 2013 for £42.4m)

After joining Arsenal to great fanfare, Ozil has often failed to live up to his hefty price tag and has not re-captured the sort of form he displayed on a regular basis with Real Madrid. He has still been effective at times but has struggled to consistently stay fit, making more than 25 Premier League appearances in just two of his five full seasons at the club. 

Shkodran Mustafi (from Valencia in 2016 for a fee in excess of £35m)

Arsenal made a significant investment to lure Mustafi away from Spain, but he has proven a disappointment in London. The 27-year-old has declined significantly in recent years and his error-prone nature does not fill supporters with confidence. According to reports, Arsenal are in talks with several clubs regarding Mustafi's future. A move away would not exactly come as a surprise.

Granit Xhaka (from Borussia Monchengladbach in 2016 for £35m)

Still only 26, Xhaka's best football should be in front of him. The tough-tackling midfielder's arrival was meant to herald an improvement in Arsenal's defence but the club have still leaked goals on a regular basis. The jury is still out on this one. 

Alexis Sanchez (from Barcelona in 2014 for a reported fee in the region of £35m)

Sanchez was a hit with the Arsenal faithful, scoring 60 goals in 122 Premier League matches. The club's supporters were disappointed to see him opt for a switch to Manchester United in January 2018 in a swap deal that brought Henrikh Mkhitaryan to Emirates Stadium. Sanchez's move north has been an unmitigated disaster so far, the striker on an eye-watering pay packet at Old Trafford but responsible for just three Premier League goals.

England and Australia will both be desperate to make a strong start in the 2019 Ashes opener at Edgbaston on Thursday.

But just how important is it for a team to gain an early advantage in the series?

We look at how the first day and Test unfolded in each of the past 10 Ashes contests, to determine whether initial success is key to claiming the urn.

 

2001

Winner of first day: By the end of day one in the 2001 series, Australia were in the driving seat at Edgbaston. England initially collapsed to 191-9 before recovering to make 294 as Alec Stewart (65) and number 11 Andy Caddick (49 not out) rallied. The tourists then made it to stumps on 133-2, with Michael Slater unbeaten on 76.

First Test result: Australia went on to rack up a mammoth first-innings score of 576 and skittled England for a paltry 164 to secure an emphatic innings-and-118-run victory.

Ashes result: The first Test set the tone for a one-sided series, which Australia won 4-1.

 

2002-03

Winner of first day: Poor old Nasser Hussain is regularly reminded of the time he made the shock decision to bowl first on a batting-friendly surface at the Gabba in November 2002. Hussain must have wanted the ground to open up and swallow him when Australia ended day one on 364-2, Matthew Hayden having compiled 186 not out.

First Test result: England rallied to dismiss their hosts for 492, but still suffered a thumping defeat. Set 464 for victory on the fourth day, they shambolically subsided to 79 all out, handing Australia victory by 384 runs.

Ashes result: Another 4-1 win for Australia and another series where England's only win, this time in Sydney, came with the Ashes urn beyond them.

 

2005

Winner of first day: England went into the 2005 Ashes high on optimism and that was only heightened when they limited Australia to 190. However, Australia were on top by the end of day one. Glenn McGrath decimated the England top order and Michael Vaughan's men limped through to stumps on 92-7.

First Test result: Kevin Pietersen made a pair of fifties on his Test debut, but Australia ultimately won at a canter, triumphing by 239 runs after making 384 in their second innings.

Ashes result: In arguably the greatest Ashes series of all time, England secured a 2-1 victory to regain the urn for the first time in 16 years.

 

2006-07

Winner of first day: Another miserable Brisbane experience for England famously began with a woeful Steve Harmison wide straight to second slip. Australia had an imposing total of 346-3 at stumps, with skipper Ricky Ponting unbeaten on 137.

First Test result: The hosts went on to reach 602-9 declared, setting the platform for another crushing victory. Paul Collingwood and Pietersen delayed the inevitable on the fourth day after England had been set 648, but Australia won by 277 runs.

Ashes result: Things got no better for Andrew Flintoff's England thereafter as Australia wrapped up a 5-0 series whitewash.

 

2009

Winner of first day: A tense opening day in Cardiff ended with honours even, England having battled to 336-7 thanks to contributions throughout the order.

First Test result: The contest ended in a draw, but only just. Australia were one wicket from victory before England's last pair of James Anderson and Monty Panesar dug deep to deny the tourists.

Ashes result: As had been the case in 2005, England won the series 2-1, earning successes at Lord's and The Oval either side of an innings-and-80-run loss at Headingley.

 

2010-11

Winner of first day: Australia were the happier side after day one of the 2010-11 series in Brisbane. A hat-trick from Peter Siddle, on his 26th birthday, helped limit England to 260 before the hosts reached 25 without loss in reply.

First Test result: After conceding a first-innings lead of 221, England sensationally rescued a draw by piling up 517-1 declared in their second innings. Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott made hundreds, while Alastair Cook's unbeaten 235 spanned more than 10 hours.

Ashes result: Cook finished with 766 runs in the series as England ran out 3-1 winners. All three of their victories came by an innings as they enjoyed Ashes success in Australia for the first time in 24 years.

 

2013

Winner of first day: England were seemingly ahead by a narrow margin after the first day at Trent Bridge, after reducing Australia to 75-4 in reply to an underwhelming total of 215 all out.

First Test result: An absorbing match - highlighted by debutant Ashton Agar contributing 98 to a 10th-wicket partnership of 163 for Australia in the first innings - ended with England prevailing by 14 runs.

Ashes result: England won the series 3-0, following up their narrow victories of 2005 and 2009 with a much more convincing triumph.

 

2013-14

Winner of first day: Stuart Broad's five-wicket haul ensured England were thought to be in front at the end of day one at the Gabba, with Australia 273-8 on a pitch that appeared benign.

First Test result: Australia dominated the remaining days, dismissing England for 136 and 179 to prevail by 381 runs.

Ashes result: Another 5-0 whitewash for Australia.

 

2015

Winner of first day: A relatively even opening day in Cardiff four years ago ended with England, who opted to bat, on 343-7, thanks largely to a century from Joe Root.

First Test result: After reaching 430, England limited Australia to 308 and kicked on to win by 169 runs on day four.

Ashes result: A 3-2 win for England represented their fourth consecutive Ashes success on home soil.

 

2017-18

Winner of first day: Although they only lost four wickets on day one of the 2017-18 series at the Gabba, England's painfully slow progress meant it was tough to determine who was ahead at the close, with the tourists on 196-4.

First Test result: The match remained hard to call when the hosts eked out a first-innings lead of 26, but Australia ended up winning by 10 wickets, after bowling England out for 195 in the second dig and cruising to a target of 170.

Ashes result: Australia charged to a 4-0 victory, the eighth home win in the last nine Ashes series.

 

SUMMARY:

It would be foolish to read too much into the first day of this year's Ashes series, but the outcome of the opening Test is a much more significant pointer to what will follow.

Australia have won five opening days compared to England's two over the last 10 series, with three too close to call.

However, the teams have won five Ashes series apiece in that time and there have been three examples (2005, 2010-11 and 2013-14) of teams recovering from being second best on the opening day to win the series.

A defeat in the first Test is, understandably, a tougher barrier to overcome. England's 2005 Ashes triumph is the only example this century of a team winning the series after being beaten in the opening match.

Australia's five other first-Test wins since 2001 were all converted into Ashes successes, while England triumphed in 2013 and 2015 after starting those series with wins and also secured victory in the two rubbers that began with draws (2009 and 2010-11).

Josh Hodgson is set to make a landmark NRL appearance when Canberra Raiders take on New Zealand Warriors on Friday.

The former Hull KR and Hull FC man has played for the Raiders since 2015 and will be looking to propel his side to victory on his 100th league outing in Australia.

A win for the Raiders would see them - temporarily at least - move level with second-placed South Sydney Rabbitohs on 28 points.

We take a look at round 20's key statistics, courtesy of Opta.

Thursday

West Tigers (8-10) v North Queensland Cowboys (7-11)

- The Tigers have won their last six NRL games on the bounce against North Queensland at Leichhardt Oval, including a 20-12 victory when they last met at the venue in 2018.

- The Cowboys have made 12 or more errors in each of their last five NRL matches against the Tigers.

Friday

New Zealand Warriors (7-1-10) v Canberra Raiders (12-6)

- Including a 20-16 win in their last meeting in Auckland, the Warriors have won 10 of their last 13 NRL games against the Raiders on home turf.

- Jarrod Croker has scored 17 tries in 17 games against the Warriors – including five in his last five – making it his best tally against any single opponent in the NRL.

Brisbane Broncos (8-1-9) v Melbourne Storm (15-3)

- Andrew McCullough of the Broncos has played the most minutes (1,068) of any player to have made one error or fewer in the NRL this year.

- The Storm have won 16 of their last 18 NRL meetings with Brisbane and the last six in a row.

Saturday

Manly Sea Eagles (11-7) v Newcastle Knights (8-10)

- The last time Manly conceded 20 points or more in an NRL match against Newcastle was in 2012. They have won seven of the nine games since then.

- Tom Trbojevic has been directly involved in 1.7 tries per game in the NRL this season, the most of any player to have played more than one match.

Canterbury Bulldogs (5-13) v Penrith Panthers (9-9)

- Reimis Smith of the Bulldogs has made 66 quick play-the-balls this NRL season, 12 more than any other player and 23 more than the Panthers' Josh Mansour (43).

- The Panthers have won four of their last five clashes with the Bulldogs, despite having led at half-time only once in that run.

Cronulla Sharks (8-10) v South Sydney Rabbitohs (13-5)

- Only the Storm (9) have scored more tries after forcing a line drop-out in this season than the Sharks (8).

- The Rabbitohs' Damien Cook has made a league-high 21 try assists this year.

Sunday

Sydney Roosters (12-6) v Gold Coast Titans (4-14)

- The Roosters have won their last four straight games - and six of their last seven - against the Titans.

- Michael Gordon may be key if the NRL's bottom club - who have announced Justin Holbrook as their coach for 2020 - are to get anything against the Roosters. He has a goal-kicking success rate of 88 per cent this campaign.

St George Illawarra Dragons (6-12) v Parramatta Eels (10-8)

- The Eels have won eight of their previous nine NRL matches against the Dragons.

- The Dragons are the NRL's top tacklers this season, having made 371 per game, 30 more than the Eels.

With the Cricket World Cup in the rear-view mirror, attention turns to an Ashes series that will be hard-pressed to produce the same kind of drama. 

Following their triumph over New Zealand in what many consider the greatest cricket game ever played, England are out to make it arguably the best year in their history by regaining the urn. 

Australia, meanwhile, are aiming to claim a first Ashes win in England since 2001, but start that quest at Edgbaston, a venue with few happy memories for the tourists and plenty for the hosts. 

So ahead of Thursday's opening day at the site of England's semi-final demolition of the old enemy, we assess the state of the two rival nations. 


BATTING 

There remains no definitive solution to England's interminable struggles to find a settled opening pair, though they appear poised to put faith in one of their World Cup heroes, Jason Roy, despite his inexperience at Test level. 

Roy scored 72 in the second innings of his Test debut against Ireland last week, having only managed five with his first knock, as he looked to adapt his devastating game to the longest format, but the challenge of attempting to see off the new red ball against the Australia attack will be a daunting one. 

It would be a less imposing test if he had a seasoned partner at the top but he will instead likely be occupying the crease alongside another player for whom the Ashes is a completely new experience, with Rory Burns having reached 50 just three times in 16 innings for Surrey this season. 

To protect against a collapse should England's openers continue to fail, Joe Root is set to move up the order and provide a steadying force at number three with Joe Denly dropping to four. 

The picture in the middle order could hardly be more contrasting. Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes give England's batting substantial depth but they and Sam Curran, who has too often had to mount recovery efforts early in his Test career, will hope to avoid being tasked with salvaging innings on a regular basis. 

If the top order can provide some solidity, England's strength in numbers with the bat could prove the difference in a series where the ball may dominate.  

The batting order undoubtedly remains the biggest question mark for Australia as well, even though the returns of Steve Smith and David Warner from suspension will provide a huge boost. 

Warner, despite taking a blow to the thigh in training, is set to open the batting. However, the question is whether that will be alongside Marcus Harris or the third party in the infamous ball-tampering scandal, Cameron Bancroft. The selectors will have to weigh up the risk of throwing Bancroft into the fire at Edgbaston, where he will undoubtedly be targeted by the home fans, versus going with an opener whose inability to convert starts has previously hurt Australia. 

There will be significant pressure on Usman Khawaja to finally deliver on English pitches at three, which would help alleviate some of the burden on former skipper and talisman Smith. 

Travis Head should provide a counter-attacking force from five, but the other big call for Edgbaston is at the spot below him. 

Mitchell Marsh, Matthew Wade and Marnus Labuschagne are all in contention to bat at six in the opener, the latter the leading run-scorer in County Championship Division Two, and it is a decision Australia can ill-afford to get wrong as they seek a batsman to protect a tail that is unlikely to wag with as much effectiveness as England's. 


BOWLING 

At the start of the year, the prospect of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood both missing out on the first Test would have seemed a preposterous one, with the thought of the former being omitted for Australia even more bemusing after his incredible performances at the World Cup. 

Yet, such is the depth of the tourists' attack that Starc faces the very real possibility of watching the opener from the pavilion with Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Nathan Lyon all apparent locks to play in the first Test and Peter Siddle having re-emerged as a genuine option in the attack. 

Saving Starc for Lord's - the site of his stunning reverse-swing yorker to Ben Stokes at the World Cup – and Headingley, where swing will be a greater factor, may not be the worst policy. If Australia end their 18-year Edgbaston hoodoo and then get to unleash a fresh Starc and Hazlewood against a batting order accustomed to collapses, they will be in a very strong position. 

England's biggest call with the bowlers appears to be whether to end the Anderson-Broad axis early.  

Should they choose to do so it would be Stuart Broad to miss out, with World Cup final Super Over hero Jofra Archer in the running to bring his staggering raw pace to the highest level of the red-ball game.  

After his Herculean effort in said final, Stokes has an opportunity to add to his national-hero status and the all-rounder should be well rested in terms of his bowling having carried little of the load during the World Cup. 

Curran and Woakes provide further world-class all-round options and, even if the latter misses out on Edgbaston, he is almost certain to be back in the frame for Lord's, where he has an average of under 10. 

Moeen Ali will be hoping to firmly re-establish himself as England's best spin option, while Olly Stone is another who offers exciting pace.  

Out of action with a side injury, Mark Wood could yet return for the last two Tests and the fast bowler may be a crucial late addition for an attack that could tire in a gruelling five-match, seven-week series. 


OUTLOOK 

England are favourites to regain the urn on home soil, as Australia have not won an Ashes away series since 2001 and the last four series have gone to the home side. 

The hosts prevailed 3-2 four years ago and, with both teams possessing extremely talented but fallible batting line-ups and supremely deep bowling attacks that should thrive on English pitches, an enthralling series producing the same result would be no surprise.

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