Tim Paine could be a man under growing pressure if Australia make a slow start to the Ashes, but he can silence his doubters quickly.

Paine took over the Test captaincy early last year with his nation reeling in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal that included bans for skipper Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner.

Widely considered the best gloveman in Australia, Paine has done an admirable job since taking the helm and will lead his country into the Ashes against England beginning on Thursday.

But has the 34-year-old, who has played 21 Tests, completed his task, now that leaders Smith and Warner are back?

Paine is without a Test ton and he averages 35.14, often able to produce some handy lower-order contributions, having made five half-centuries.

However, if his dip in form continues it could quickly lead to questions over his spot in Australia's line-up in England, particularly if those above him in the batting order are incapable of delivering the runs the tourists need in what are sure to be bowler-friendly conditions.

Since his nation's last Test against Sri Lanka ended in February, Paine has played in six matches, making just 163 runs at an average of 18.11 for Tasmania and during Australia's warm-up games.

Where the pressure really starts to build is with a look at the form of Matthew Wade, whose runs led to his inclusion in the 17-man squad.

Wade impressed in English conditions during Australia A's tour, making scores of 117, 155, 41 and 42, before another century for an Australian XI against the England Lions.

Paine and Wade may yet be picked in the same XI during the Ashes, but if the former's struggles continue, selectors may opt for a special batsman and give the gloves to the 31-year-old, giving up some polish behind the stumps in favour of potential runs.

Australia head coach Justin Langer is a fan of Paine's – the "toughest pretty boy" he has met – while he talked up their relationship in the lead-up to the Ashes.

Given the difficult period he has taken Australia through, Paine well and truly deserves his chance, but he must turn his form around or the pressure, and desperation to win the Ashes, could lead to change.

As training camp gets more competitive, so does vying for positions, and some players are getting a jump on their season by bringing their best moves early on.

But with that comes the risk of injury, something no team wants to experience before the first game of the year when their hopes are still high.

Three things that matter

Is the Fitzmagic back?

The quarterback competition is heating up at the Miami Dolphins, and Ryan Fitzpatrick appears to be honing in on the starting role as coach Brian Flores noted the veteran has the edge over second-year signal-caller Josh Rosen. 

"From a quarterback standpoint, it's pretty clear to me that Ryan Fitzpatrick is leading the way," Flores told the Miami Herald. 

"He's been more productive. At the end of the day, that's what it comes down to."

Fitzpatrick had a hot streak with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season as he filled in admirably for the suspended Jameis Winston, finishing with 2,366 passing yards for 17 touchdowns with 12 interceptions in seven starts.

Andrew having no Luck with calf strain

Given Andrew Luck's injury history, it will be concerning for the Indianapolis Colts to find that their quarterback experienced no improvement "pain-wise" with a calf injury.

"I did a disservice to myself by saying I'd be ready," Luck told CBS Sports on Tuesday. "Its a calf strain. I say lower leg because I feel pain at my ankle."

Nonetheless, Colts coach Frank Reich is optimistic Luck would be available if the team had a regular-season game on Sunday.

However, Reich added Luck will likely miss the next two practices and sit out the Colts' pre-season opener against the Buffalo Bills.

Eli Manning appears to be Giants' man

It was unlikely that rookie quarterback Daniel Jones would start over experienced veteran Eli Manning, but New York Giants coach Pat Shurmur clarified the sixth overall draft pick has not taken a snap with the first-team offense yet.

However, Shurmur preached patience as he hinted Jones would get his reps in eventually.

"We have a plan for how this is all going to play out," Shurmur said. "Just let it unfold for you."

Despite his inconsistencies in 2018, it appears the Giants are willing to give Manning one more chance before moving on from the 38-year-old.

Two things that don't matter Julio Jones will not play preseason games

Atlanta Falcons' Julio Jones is entering his ninth season in the league, so he does not feel the need to risk injury by playing in preseason games that do not count.

"I'm not playing preseason. I'm a veteran, I've been doing this. I don't need preseason to get ready," Jones told reporters on Tuesday.

The holdout is not surprising for Jones considering he did not play in any preseason games in 2018, and appeared in just one the previous season.

Tyreek Hill suffers bruised quad

The Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver limped off the field at practice on Tuesday and was taken away by a cart after he was hit by cornerback Bashaud Breeland, though it was later reported he suffered a quad bruise and seems to have avoided serious injury.

It is unclear if Hill will be sidelined this week or beyond, but considering the Cincinnati Bengals recently lost star A.J. Green for up to eight weeks with an ankle injury, it is safe to assume the Chiefs will be careful.

One video you have to see

In honour of launching his new documentary series 'Peyton's Places' on ESPN+, former quarterback Peyton Manning lobbed a football to Cris Carter, from the top of a building in New York City.

Tuesday tweet of the day

Chad Johnson, who last played for the New England Patriots in 2011, wants teams experiencing injury troubles to know his services are available.

England's bid to regain the Ashes starts at 'Fortress Edgbaston' on Thursday.

The Birmingham venue has provided England with home comforts in recent years and was also the site for their Cricket World Cup semi-final victory over Australia this month.

Stuart Broad and Nathan Lyon are seeking personal milestones, while James Anderson will hope to continue his fine record against David Warner.

We look at the Opta numbers behind the first encounter.

 

8 - England are on an eight-game unbeaten streak in Tests at Edgbaston, a run that dates back 11 years to a 2008 defeat to South Africa. In total, England have lost only one of their last 14 Tests at Edgbaston, winning 10 and drawing three.

5 - Australia have failed to win any of their previous five Tests on the road - losing four and drawing one - and are on their longest winless run since a nine-match sequence throughout 2013.

4 - Each of the past four Ashes series to take place in England have been won by the hosts, who last tasted defeat to their great rivals on home soil in 2001.

10 - The year 2001 was also when Australia last won a match in any format at Edgbaston, where they are on a 10-game winless run.

95 - Broad is five wickets short of 100 Ashes dismissals. Should he reach the century, he will become the ninth man to do so for England.

9 - Anderson has dismissed Warner on nine occasions in Tests. No bowler has dismissed the opener more often, with India's Ravichandran Ashwin also removing Warner nine times.

104 - With 104 Ashes wickets, Anderson is 24 behind Ian Botham, England's all-time leading wicket-taker against Australia.

343 - Australian Lyon needs seven more victims to become the seventh spinner to reach 350 Test wickets. Only three Australian bowlers - Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Dennis Lillee - have attained that figure.

A thrilling Cricket World Cup captured the attention worldwide and all eyes will be on the sport once more as the Ashes begins this week.

This historic series might not be the easiest to understand for anyone who is still new to the sport having been gripped by the incredible finale to the ODI showpiece at Lord's earlier this month.

So what is the Ashes and where does it get its name? Who are the key figures? 

We bring you all the details of England and Australia's long rivalry.


What is the Ashes?

The Ashes is a five-match Test cricket series contested between England and Australia. It is considered the pinnacle of the long-format of the game due to the intense and long-running rivalry of the nations, dating back to their involvement in the first officially recognised Test match in 1877.

But the Ashes did not emerge as a concept until 1882, in the aftermath of Australia's shock seven-run win in the lone international fixture of their tour to the United Kingdom.

In a mock obituary published by the Sporting Times, British journalist Reginald Shirley Brooks wrote: "In affectionate remembrance of English cricket which died at The Oval, 29th August, 1882.

"Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances, RIP. NB The body will be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia."

England sailed Down Under later that year with the intention of recovering the hypothetical Ashes, drawing 2-2, and the battle for ownership has continued for well over a century.

What is the prize?

Those Ashes, said to be contained in an urn, are exactly what the two sides are still playing for in 2019.

The delicate urn remains on display at Lord's, with the MCC instead commissioning a larger crystal trophy in the 1990s following discussions with both teams.

That trophy is presented to the winning captain at the end of the series, yet it is the urn which still represents bragging rights in the minds of many, with several songs and poems written about bringing it "home".


Which nation has been more successful?

England have the chance to even the Ashes ledger at 33 series victories each after Australia edged ahead in the count courtesy of a commanding 4-0 home win in 2017-18. 

Five out of the 70 series contested since 1882 have ended in a draw and Australia also hold the advantage in terms of individual Test match wins, with 134 to England's 106, with 90 draws.

Recent history, however, does not favour Tim Paine's team: England have not been beaten in an Ashes series on home soil since 2001.


Who are the key players?

Australia welcome back star batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner following the end of respective 12-month bans for their roles in a ball-tampering incident that also involved Cameron Bancroft - another member of this year's Ashes squad - against South Africa in March 2018. The trio are back in an international squad together for the first time since that controversial incident.

Australia's strength otherwise lies in their bowling: vice-captain Pat Cummins is the top-ranked Test bowler in the world, while left-armer Mitchell Starc took the most wickets in the recent World Cup.

England won that tournament on home soil, making heroes of a new generation. Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, both influential in the nail-biting Super Over defeat of New Zealand in the final, are among the game's most thrilling batsmen to watch and form part of a dangerous line-up, which also contains captain and linchpin Joe Root.

Experienced seamer James Anderson and partner in crime Stuart Broad have tormented Australia in English conditions over the past decade, although there is a slight fitness concern over the former.

When and where are the matches happening?

The series begins at Edgbaston in Birmingham on Thursday. The teams then reconvene in London at Lord's - usually described as the "Home of Cricket" - on August 14 before squaring off at Headingley in Leeds from August 22. 

Manchester's Old Trafford plays host to the fourth Test, starting on September 4, and the series concludes in a fifth Test at The Oval - again in London. That match begins on September 12.

A thrilling Cricket World Cup captured the attention worldwide and all eyes will be on the sport once more as the Ashes begins this week.

This historic series might not be the easiest to understand for anyone who is still new to the sport having been gripped by the incredible finale to the ODI showpiece at Lord's earlier this month.

So what is the Ashes and where does it get its name? Who are the key figures? 

We bring you all the details of England and Australia's long rivalry.


What is the Ashes?

The Ashes is a five-match Test cricket series contested between England and Australia. It is considered the pinnacle of the long-format of the game due to the intense and long-running rivalry of the nations, dating back to their involvement in the first officially recognised Test match in 1877.

But the Ashes did not emerge as a concept until 1882, in the aftermath of Australia's shock seven-run win in the lone international fixture of their tour to the United Kingdom.

In a mock obituary published by the Sporting Times, British journalist Reginald Shirley Brooks wrote: "In affectionate remembrance of English cricket which died at The Oval, 29th August, 1882.

"Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances, RIP. NB The body will be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia."

England sailed Down Under later that year with the intention of recovering the hypothetical Ashes, drawing 2-2, and the battle for ownership has continued for well over a century.

What is the prize?

Those Ashes, said to be contained in an urn, are exactly what the two sides are still playing for in 2019.

The delicate urn remains on display at Lord's, with the MCC instead commissioning a larger crystal trophy in the 1990s following discussions with both teams.

That trophy is presented to the winning captain at the end of the series, yet it is the urn which still represents bragging rights in the minds of many, with several songs and poems written about bringing it "home".


Which nation has been more successful?

England have the chance to even the Ashes ledger at 33 series victories each after Australia edged ahead in the count courtesy of a commanding 4-0 home win in 2017-18. 

Five out of the 70 series contested since 1882 have ended in a draw and Australia also hold the advantage in terms of individual Test match wins, with 134 to England's 106, with 90 draws.

Recent history, however, does not favour Tim Paine's team: England have not been beaten in an Ashes series on home soil since 2001.


Who are the key players?

Australia welcome back star batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner following the end of respective 12-month bans for their roles in a ball-tampering incident that also involved Cameron Bancroft - another member of this year's Ashes squad - against South Africa in March 2018. The trio are back in an international squad together for the first time since that controversial incident.

Australia's strength otherwise lies in their bowling: vice-captain Pat Cummins is the top-ranked Test bowler in the world, while left-armer Mitchell Starc took the most wickets in the recent World Cup.

England won that tournament on home soil, making heroes of a new generation. Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, both influential in the nail-biting Super Over defeat of New Zealand in the final, are among the game's most thrilling batsmen to watch and form part of a dangerous line-up, which also contains captain and linchpin Joe Root.

Experienced seamer James Anderson and partner in crime Stuart Broad have tormented Australia in English conditions over the past decade, although there is a slight fitness concern over the former.

When and where are the matches happening?

The series begins at Edgbaston in Birmingham on Thursday. The teams then reconvene in London at Lord's - usually described as the "Home of Cricket" - on August 14 before squaring off at Headingley in Leeds from August 22. 

Manchester's Old Trafford plays host to the fourth Test, starting on September 4, and the series concludes in a fifth Test at The Oval - again in London. That match begins on September 12.

Formula One races are rarely dull when Dutch sensation Max Verstappen comes out on top.

The Red Bull star won Sunday's German Grand Prix and, as so often with his victories, it was a thriller in Hockenheim.

Verstappen is still searching for the consistency required for a true title tilt, but he knows how to edge his rivals in spectacular circumstances.

We take a look at five gripping Verstappen wins.

 

2016 Spanish Grand Prix

Verstappen's first F1 win was eventful for a number of reasons, with the 18-year-old's achievement in becoming the youngest ever race winner somewhat overshadowed.

Title rivals and team-mates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton crashed out in an early collision, allowing Verstappen to take full advantage.

Verstappen still had Daniel Ricciardo, his own colleague to contend with, but in a sign of what was to come at Red Bull, the Australian rued the team's decision to put him on a three-stop strategy.

The Dutch teenager pitted just twice and triumphed.

 

2017 Mexican Grand Prix

Verstappen has tended to find form late in seasons and, in 2017, after a run of retirements earlier in the year, he hit form with wins in Malaysia and Mexico.

But his third career win - in Mexico City - saw the limelight stolen again, with Hamilton securing the championship despite finishing ninth.

Early collisions with Hamilton and fellow contender Sebastian Vettel could not prevent Verstappen from dashing to the front, while the other two were initially outside the points.

Vettel battled back to fourth but could not join Verstappen on the podium, with Hamilton doing enough to pip the German to the title.

 

2018 Austrian Grand Prix

A first victory in Austria was particularly precious, with Red Bull triumphing on home territory.

Once again, though, Verstappen was aided by collapses all around him as both Ricciardo and Hamilton were forced to retire.

Only the three drivers on the podium actually completed 71 laps, with fourth-placed Romain Grosjean a lap back on Verstappen and Ferrari duo Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel.

It mattered little to Verstappen and his Austrian team as they celebrated at the Red Bull Ring.

 

2019 Austrian Grand Prix

Having finished 2018 strongly, Verstappen was forced to wait until Austria once again to triumph in 2019, setting aside speculation he might be about to depart his team for Mercedes.

Once again, the Red Bull star found himself without a serious challenge from Hamilton and Vettel, yet Charles Leclerc, the other Ferrari man, proved more troublesome.

Leclerc had been threatening to claim his first win for much of the season and looked as though he might get it as he led for long periods, Verstappen having struggled early on.

But back roared the 2018 winner and he pipped Leclerc in a dramatic finish that saw their wheels make contact, the victory staying with Verstappen despite a subsequent review.

 

2019 German Grand Prix

More Mercedes misfortune as Verstappen triumphs? You bet.

Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas both crashed, along with Leclerc, in a chaotic race at Hockenheim.

Vettel roared back to finish second, while Daniil Kvyat was a surprise third-placed finisher, but for all the drama going on further down the grid there would be no denying Verstappen.

A wet track could not stop the 21-year-old, who just might threaten to make this year's championship interesting again if he can continue to profit on such havoc.

Egan Bernal made Tour de France history on Sunday as he became the first Colombian to win the yellow jersey.

Bernal's victory was effectively sealed on a penultimate stage shortened to 59.5 kilometres due to weather concerns, having moved into the lead when stage 19 was brought to a premature end in the Alps due to a hail storm and severe mudslides on the descent of the Col de l'Iseran.

It marked a bizarre end to a thrilling race, with Bernal able to take in his achievement on the processional final stage to Paris, on which he was congratulated by team-mate and 2018 champion Geraint Thomas as they crossed the line on the Champs-Elysees to seal a one-two finish.

As INEOS celebrates yet another Tour win, we look at some of the best Opta facts from a race that will live long in the memory.

 

BERNAL TRIUMPHS IN TIGHTEST TOUR

- Egan Bernal is the first Colombian rider to win the Tour de France and at 22 years, 6 months and 15 days old, he is the third-youngest winner of the race after Henri Cornet (1904) and Francois Faber (1909).

- With a difference between the winner (Bernal) and third place (Steven Kruijswijk) of 1'33", this is the tightest podium in the history of the Tour de France.

- Bernal is the third Colombian rider to win a Grand Tour after Nairo Quintana (Giro d'Italia 2014 and Vuelta a Espana 2016) and Lucho Herrera (Vuelta a Espana 1987).

- There has been a Colombian rider on the podium in five of the last seven Tour de France editions (Bernal 1st in 2019, Rigoberto Uran 2nd in 2017 and Nairo Quintana 3rd in 2016, 2nd in 2015 and 2nd in 2013).

- Bernal has become the fifth rider to have won both the General Classification and the Young Rider Classification in the same edition of the Tour de France after Laurent Fignon in 1983, Jan Ullrich in 1997, Alberto Contador in 2007 and Andy Schleck in 2010.


INEOS IN CONTROL

- A Team INEOS rider (previously Team Sky) has won in seven of the last eight Tour de France editions (Bradley Wiggins 2012; Chris Froome 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017; Geraint Thomas 2018 and Egan Bernal 2019). No other trade team has won this race with four different riders.

- It is the second time that two riders of Team INEOS have been on the first two positions of the General Classification (Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas). The first time was in 2012 with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.

- British riders have finished on the podium in six of the last seven Tour de France editions, only failing to do so in 2014.


SUPER SAGAN

- Peter Sagan won the Points Classification for a record seventh time, something that nobody has done before in the Tour de France (Erik Zabel, 6).

- The Slovak has won the Points Classification at the Tour de France in seven of the last eight years (DSQ in 2017).

- Sagan has recorded at least one stage win in six of his last eight Tour de France appearances, only failing to do so in 2014 and 2015.


ALAPHILIPPE EMULATES HINAULT

- Julian Alaphilippe wore the yellow jersey for 14 stages in this year’s Tour de France, it was 34 years since a French rider had done this (Bernard Hinault, 17 stages in 1985).

- Three different French riders (Warren Barguil, 2017; Julian Alaphilippe, 2018 and Romain Bardet, 2019) have won the Mountain Classification of the Tour de France in three consecutive years for first time since it was established in 1933.

- Thibaut Pinot has abandoned the race in four of his seven Tour de France appearances.

- Romain Bardet won the Mountain Classification for the first time after seven Tour de France appearances.

Forget about the Cricket World Cup – that is old news. England may have prevailed (thanks to the boundary count) on home soil to be crowned champions, but there is little time to bask in the glory.

Just over two weeks after that unforgettable final against New Zealand, the focus switches to Test action and the small matter of the Ashes.

Australia are holders of the urn following their 4-0 success on home soil in 2017-18. However, they have not triumphed on English soil since 2001, when a star-studded side led by Steve Waugh and including Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath, Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne proved to be far too strong for Nasser Hussain's team.

Since then, though, England have dominated in their own backyard. Can they continue their dominance, or will an away team succeed for the first time since 2010-11?

Ahead of the 2019 edition of the series, three Omnisport journalists have offered predictions for what might unfold in the coming weeks.

 

LIAM BLACKBURN

Winner and score: England (3-2)

You would be a brave man to bet against Joe Root's team in their own conditions given England have not lost a Test series at home since 2014 – when Sri Lanka edged a two-match contest. The Australian aura was gone after 2005 and this is an England team largely made up of players still residing on cloud nine after the thrilling World Cup triumph. England are not infallible – see that fragile top order for evidence – but, conversely, there should be little to fear from an Australia side that has been bowled out for less than 300 on 15 occasions in their previous 12 Tests.

Leading run-scorer: Steve Smith

In eight of those 12 Tests, Australia were without Cameron Bancroft, David Warner and Smith due to their suspensions following the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa. It is Smith – a man who was still top of the ICC's Test batting rankings during part of his ban – who England will fear the most. He scored the most runs (508) four years ago in England, was also the leading run-scorer (687) in the most recent Ashes in Australia and registered four half-centuries in the World Cup to suggest he has not lost his touch.

Leading wicket-taker: James Anderson

This may be his last Ashes hurrah but Anderson, who should overcome a calf problem to feature at Edgbaston, can bow out with a bang. Ignore the 36-year-old's recent figures on flatter tracks in Sri Lanka and the Caribbean – when he took 11 wickets across five Tests – and instead focus on the most recent home series against India, Pakistan and West Indies, in conditions tailor-made for the seamer. Anderson was England's leading wicket-taker in each of the three series and in this Ashes, he will be handed his weapon of choice – the Dukes ball with a bigger seam that saw him do such damage in 2017 and 2018.

 

ROB LANCASTER

Winner and score: Draw (2-2 - Australia retain the Ashes)

Lunch. Tea. Rain stopping play. Top-order collapses. They are about the only certainties heading into this Ashes series, along with Bancroft, Smith and Warner being greeted by boos each time they come out to bat. Both teams have a conveyor belt of pace bowlers but serious holes in their batting line-ups. Whoever can work out the best options to plug those gaps may well end up being victorious. With that in mind, it may finally be time for the home dominance to come to an end. Australia have selected a well-balanced squad and the return of the ball-tampering trio to the Test XI gives it a much stronger look. Crucially, too, England's World Cup success may have emptied the tanks of some key players, including skipper Root. With rain to play a part somewhere, the prediction is two wins apiece (both for Australia at the London venues) and a weather-hit draw somewhere outside the capital.

Leading run-scorer: Steve Smith

It is hard to see how anyone regularly coming up against the new ball will prosper on a regular basis. England have shown a propensity to fold faster than an origami expert (see Ireland, one-off Test, Lord's) and still appear no closer to working out their best combination for the top three. Root is seemingly not keen on a promotion from four in the order, but he will be a target for the Australia attack however early he is out in the middle. Smith will be in the firing line too, considering what happened in Cape Town last year. However, the right-hander averaged a ridiculous 137.4 in the last Ashes and will be determined to succeed after serving a suspension.

Leading wicket-taker: Stuart Broad

Poor Broad. He is second on England's list for Test wickets and just warmed up for the Ashes with seven in the match against Ireland at Lord's, yet some appear ready to cast him out on the international scrap heap. Anderson remains the leader of the attack but he is coming back from a calf injury, and the hot-and-cold Broad has a habit of catching fire against the Australians. He may struggle to match his career-best haul of 8-15 achieved at Trent Bridge in the 2015 series, but the 33-year-old still has a few of those devastating spells in him. It is far tougher to pick a candidate for this award for the tourists outside of Nathan Lyon, considering he may be the only bowler who features in every game while they manage the workload of the pacemen.

 

DEJAN KALINIC

Winner and score: Australia (3-2)

The weather in England will obviously have an impact, but given both teams' batting woes, results still seem likely. Australia last won an Ashes series in England in 2001, but this is a fine opportunity to end that drought. The hosts' World Cup win took plenty out of them, and signs of fatigue are sure to be present during the series, giving Australia's bowlers in particular something to take advantage of. With Warner and Smith having a point to prove in the Test arena after their bans and plenty of depth in the bowling attack, Australia have what they need to get the job done. There will surely be little between the teams so if the tourists' stars can step up in the right moments, the urn is likely to be theirs at the Oval.

Leading run-scorer: David Warner

What better way to drown out the boos than making plenty of runs? Warner is exactly the type to thrive off that kind of attention and he showed during the World Cup his form was quite good, making 647 runs at an average of 71.88, with three centuries. He also made a 58 in the intra-squad tour match, an encounter for the most part best forgotten by Australia's batsmen. If Australia are to have any chance of an upset win on English soil, Warner will need to deliver. The left-hander managed 418 runs at 46.44 during the 2015 Ashes, and that was without going on to convert one of his five half-centuries. And, in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal, what better way to endear yourself once again to an at-best uncertain Australian public?

Leading wicket-taker: Pat Cummins

The 2019 Allan Border Medallist and the number one Test bowler in the world. Is Cummins getting the credit he deserves yet? Finally fit, Cummins has been a standout in recent times for Australia, and he gets a chance to terrorise England once more. It may have been on home soil, but the paceman took a series-high 23 wickets in 2017-18. Cummins – also handy with the bat, which may become incredibly important – was only a late inclusion into the squad in 2015, but he returns four years later as a vital part of Australia's bowling attack and with a chance to show just why he is the world's top-ranked Test bowler.

Regardless of who lifts the urn at The Oval in September, one Australian who is plotting Ashes glory should forever be revered in England.

Just 16 months ago Trevor Bayliss was facing calls for him to be axed as England head coach after New Zealand rolled Joe Root's side for only 58 in an embarrassing first-Test defeat in Auckland.

That came on the back of a chastening 4-0 Ashes thumping in Australia, where Bayliss also fended off questions over his future – much more assertively than the tourists did with the Australia bowling attack.

Bayliss would be entitled to feel he had more than enough credit in the bank at that point, having masterminded a transformation of the ODI side from a Cricket World Cup shambles in 2015 to a major force.

There was no word from his critics when top-ranked England were crowned world champions for the first time this month, an ambitious mission that he was challenged to achieve when he took the reins four years ago.

The unassuming Bayliss started his tenure with a home Ashes win and could sign off with another before stepping aside at the end of the series.

An emphatic home Test series win over India and two series victories against South Africa have also been achieved with the former Sri Lanka coach at the helm, as well as a run to the final of the 2016 World T20.

Paul Farbrace, long-time assistant to the man from New South Wales both with England and Sri Lanka, knows as well as anybody why Bayliss has been so successful over the years.

He told Omnisport: "It's very easy when you are a coach to talk a lot, it's very hard not to say a lot and when you do speak, you speak at the right time and you say the right thing.

"That is where I think he is a genius, in that when he speaks, people listen and when he speaks, he genuinely says something that is very good and you think 'that is a great point'.

"There is a lot of things Trevor gets underestimated about. He appears to sit quietly and not say a lot, but he gets his point across and he knows what is going on all the time in the game, he never misses a ball.

"He is a genuine cricket lover and he's passionate about the game, with exceptional knowledge. He may forget the odd name, but he doesn't forget too much about the game.

"He has been the perfect fit for England over the last four years. The World Cup was the goal four years ago and that's what they have achieved."

Farbrace added: "It's a special summer for English cricket; a home World Cup and Ashes in the same six-month period, it's magnificent for the game in this country at all levels of the game.

"There's never been a better time to introduce people to get involved in the game of cricket. If England can win the Ashes it would be the perfect way to see things home and I see no reason why they can't do that."

Whether or not England regain the Ashes, Bayliss can leave the job with his head held high, although he may prefer to stay poker-faced wearing dark shades under his floppy sun hat to stay out of the limelight.

Maurizio Sarri's journey to the top of Italian football has been long and arduous.

Sarri's first foray into coaching came at the age of 31 via U.S.D Stia in 1990 while juggling work commitments – foreign currency trader by day, coach by night. That combination of banking and amateur football continued until he devoted himself to coaching in the early 2000s.

Years in the lower tiers of Italian football saw Sarri gain promotion with the likes of Sansovino, who he led to Coppa Italia Serie D glory in 2002-03, and Sangiovannese. There were also brief and forgettable stints in charge of Pescara, Arezzo, Avellino, Hellas Verona and Perugia.

It was not until 2014 that Sarri had his first taste of Serie A after guiding Empoli to promotion at the age of 55. A surprise move to Napoli followed 12 months later – the Naples-born coach, who grew up in Tuscany, an unpopular choice among fans and even club great Diego Maradona.

But Sarri revolutionised Napoli and Italian football with his attacking and free-flowing brand, earning admirers from far and wide. Head-hunted by Chelsea following two runners-up medals in Naples, Sarri now finds himself at the helm of Serie A champions Juventus after leading the Blues to Europa League glory in his one and only campaign at Stamford Bridge in 2018-19 for his first major title.

Sarri's appointment at Juve has raised eyebrows, questions asked due to his Napoli links and philosophy – his approach in complete contrast to Bianconeri teams of years gone by. With eight years of domestic domination, Sarri has been tasked with leading the Old Lady to Champions League success after five runners-up medals since their last triumph in 1996.

Former midfielder Luca Tognozzi knows Sarri better than most. He was a favourite of the 60-year-old, following Sarri to Sansovino, Sangiovannese and Pescara.

"The chance and his decision to land to Juventus team I think he is the right person in the right place at the right time," Tognozzi told Omnisport. "He deserves this opportunity for several reasons:  the way with which his teams played in recent years, results he achieved always.

"I am sure his dedication to daily work, his wilfulness and his adaptability will immediately give his mark. He is in the most important Italian football team and will also have the opportunity to entertain his audience with his personal way of making his teams play to be able to fight to achieve great results.

"I think all this is the right reward, if you can say so, for a man and for a coach who too late he got a chance to be a trainer in a team that can be highly competitive in all European competition. I am very happy for him because he deserves all of this."

Tognozzi enjoyed success with Sarri at Sansovino, where the pair helped the club move up to Serie C2 from Serie D. Tognozzi then followed the coach to Sangiovannese in 2003 and promotion to Serie C1 was achieved.

"Sarri has always been Sarri," said the 41-year-old, who also played for Sarri at Pescara in 2005-06. "Certainly, over the years he has also had the capability and the smartness to evolve himself and his way to teach football.

"I feel very proud to have been one of his players. He was a fantastic football teacher for me. I had some fun life moments with him because he is a very ironic person [as almost all Tuscan people are] ... but I keep those moments for myself."

Tognozzi continued: "He is highly demanding because he believes in what he does and the way he teaches in a work methodology and he doesn't leave nothing to chance. This makes him a special person. He can be liked or not but in the football world where not always everything is so genuine, his passion and his determination is authentic.

"Football is his passion and Sarri is involved at 100 per cent in every little detail. He started from the amateurs up to the professionals, a long journey to arrive at the top. I think it may be a greatest satisfaction. At the same time, many experts should do mea culpa for their fast and superficial evaluations.

"Out of the field Mr. Sarri is a normal and simple person with whom you can talk about everything: from literature to story, from politics to music."

Egan Bernal could surely not have envisaged that being ruled out of the Giro d'Italia in May might have been the greatest blessing in disguise he will ever have.

The 22-year-old had been primed to lead Team INEOS in the first Grand Tour of the year, but a broken collarbone denied him that opportunity.

Team INEOS sport director Nico Portal stated it would be unlikely Bernal would spearhead their challenge in both the Giro and the Tour de France before the injury blow he suffered in a training ride.

Bernal recovered from surgery and was named as joint-leader alongside defending champion Geraint Thomas for the most prestigious cycling event in the world after a horror crash put paid to Chris Froome's hopes of winning the Tour for a record-equalling fifth time.

The Zipaquira native now stands on the brink of becoming the first Colombian to win the Tour in Paris on Sunday, having already claimed Tour de Suisse and Paris–Nice titles this year.

For much of the race, the host nation were dreaming of a first French winner of the Tour in 34 years with Julian Alaphilippe a long-time leader and Thibaut Pinot firmly in contention.

Yet it was all change after a freak Friday in the Alps, where a hailstorm and mudslides brought stage 19 to a dramatic, premature end.

It was not only the extreme weather conditions that had made their mark on the stunning mountains, as Bernal showcased his climbing skills up the daunting Col de l'Iseran in what is set to be a decisive show of aggression.

He took the yellow jersey from Alaphilippe for the first time as a result of that bold move and it was still on his back after a long, gruelling climb to Val Thorens at the end of stage 20 - shortened due to concerns over the weather on Saturday.

Bernal and Thomas are poised to celebrate a one-two in the Champs-Elysees, where Alaphilippe is set to finish fifth with Pinot out due to a thigh injury.

Described by Team Sky as a "next generation general classification threat" when he signed two years ago, Bernal has delivered in the first Tour since INEOS' takeover of the dominant team.

He may have spoiled a potential Paris party, but there will be euphoric scenes throughout Colombia to toast a sensation who is on the verge of becoming the third-youngest Tour champion and the youngest for 110 years.

There may be lasting scars, but the pain of Bernal's pre-Giro training smash will be a distant memory when he cruises into the French capital.

Old habits die hard, as Team INEOS – formerly Team Sky – look set to claim their seventh Tour de France win in eight years, and the first since a change of name.

Colombia's Egan Bernal is the leading man on this occasion, with the 22-year-old capitalising on poor conditions and a shortened final competitive stage to make history.

He joins Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas – who put his arm around Bernal as they crossed the line together on Saturday – in clinching the Tour under the Sky/INEOS banners.

Bernal is also set to become the first Colombian to win the Tour and the youngest victorious rider in 110 years, with the traditional parade all that remains on Sunday.

We look back on the team's domination of the race in recent years.

 

2012 – Wiggins makes history

After a promising start by Fabian Cancellara in the first week in 2012, Wiggins took over on stage seven and never looked back. He became the first Briton to win the Tour, while his team-mate Froome came second in the general classification.

2013 – Froome takes the lead

With Wiggins missing out due to a knee injury, Froome took charge in 2013. He took the yellow jersey on stage eight and did not relinquish his lead, with his impressive performances in individual time trials and the mountains standing him in good stead.

2015 – Froome back on top

Astana's Vincenzo Nibali was victorious in 2014, but Team Sky resumed their dominance a year later. Tony Martin led the fight against Froome before a crash on stage six forced his withdrawal, with the Kenya-born rider managing to hold off Nairo Quintana towards the end.

2016 – Va va Froome

Strong form in the mountains again proved vital for Froome, who claimed the yellow jersey in stage eight and surged to glory. Quintana was unable to offer the same kind of threat this time around, as Froome further extended his advantage in the final stages.

2017 – Three in a row

Fabio Aru appeared best placed to test Froome's dominance two years ago, as the Italian took the yellow jersey from him after stage 12 – the Team Sky ace disappointing on the steep finish up to Peyragudes. But in the 14th he retook the lead and held on to make it three wins on the trot.

2018 – Chris-crash gives Thomas his moment

Having won the 2018 Giro d'Italia to complete the Triple Crown just a few weeks earlier, Froome went into the Tour among the favourites. However, crashes on stages one and nine accentuated some rusty performances elsewhere, leading to Froome focusing on aiding team-mate Thomas, who succeeded in beating Tom Dumoulin to the top step of the podium.

2019 – New era, same habits

The name on the jerseys might have been slightly different, but the outcome was the same, as Team INEOS picked up where Team Sky left off. Bernal took the yellow jersey from Julian Alaphilippe in the penultimate competitive stage in bizarre circumstances, as it was cut short in the Alps due to a hail storm and mudslides. The Frenchman cracked 13 kilometres from the finish on Saturday, allowing Bernal to get the job done.

Lasith Malinga has played his final ODI, starring for Sri Lanka in Friday's victory against Bangladesh in Colombo.

The Lions seamer went out in style as he took three wickets for 38 runs - his dismissal of Mustafizur Rahman wrapping up the win - in a 91-run triumph.

Malinga will continue to play 20-over internationals until next year's T20 World Cup, but it was in the 50-over format that he first established himself as a worldwide bowling icon.

Marking the end of a brilliant career, we take a look at how he compares to the very best.

 

ONE OF SRI LANKA'S ELITE

Malinga ends his career at number three on Sri Lanka's list of ODI wicket-takers, having claimed 338 from 220 innings.

Only the great Muttiah Muralitharan (523) and Chaminda Vaas (399) can better that tally, both playing considerably more innings - 334 and 319 respectively.

That puts Malinga ahead of Sanath Jayasuriya, Nuwan Kulasekara, Dilhara Fernando and team-mate Thisara Perera, with his average of 28.87 better than each of those four players, too.

 

HIS PLACE AMONG THE GREATS

Those figures unsurprisingly put Malinga high on the all-time worldwide list, too.

The 35-year-old is ninth in a table that again sees compatriot Muralitharan on top, also trailing Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Vaas, Shahid Afridi, Shaun Pollock, Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee.

Counting only seamers in ODIs, Malinga is seventh, with Javagal Srinath (315 wickets) the next after him.

He also collected three hat-tricks, which is more than any other bowler in ODI history, while he had eight five-wicket hauls.

 

A GENUINE WORLD CUP STAR

A rare bowling list that Muralitharan does not lead is that of Cricket World Cup wickets, where he is second behind McGrath. Malinga, with 56, 15 behind the leader, is third.

That total came from just 28 innings as Malinga produced his best on the big stage, playing in four World Cups (2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019) and taking 12 or more wickets in each of them. No other bowler has taken at least 10 wickets in more than three tournaments.

Sri Lanka were runners-up in 2007 and 2011, and big-game player Malinga took a hat-trick in each tournament. He took four wickets from four balls for the first of those against South Africa.

England seamers Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad tore through Ireland at Lord's on Friday to end a remarkable Test match where seam bowlers dominated.

Needing 182 for a historic maiden victory in cricket's longest format, Ireland were blown away as they subsided to 38 all out.

It meant England escaped with a remarkable win despite also failing to reach three figures in their first innings and needing nightwatchman Jack Leach to produce their most substantial batting contribution.

Whether it made for useful Ashes preparation is up for debate, but a Test played out in fast forward unquestionably made for compelling viewing.

 

A win without foundation

Before lunch was served on the first day, England's hopes of victory were in tatters. Playing on his home ground, Middlesex veteran Tim Murtagh earned himself a place on the fabled honours board with an imperious 5-13.

England's collapse to 85 all out was their lowest at home since Glenn McGrath's stunning 8-38 dismissed them for 77 at Lord's in 1997.

They escaped with a draw on that occasion and this win marks only the 13th time in Test history – and fifth since 1935 – that a team has managed to claim victory despite being dismissed for below 100 in their first innings.

Jack of all trades

Selected for his dependable left-arm spin, Jack Leach walked away with the man-of-the-match award after a diligently compiled 92 in the second innings gave some of his much-vaunted England colleagues a lesson in application at the crease.

Indeed, Leach's total was more than the 87 skipper Joe Root, Rory Burns, Joe Denly, Moeen Ali and the pair-bagging Jonny Bairstow could manage between them in the match. It was also only the second fifty in 2019 for an England Test opener.

England's out-of-sorts batsmen might be encouraged by Leach demonstrating how form can turn around at an unexpected moment. The highest score of his first-class career came after 19 innings without reaching double digits.

Wondrous Woakes loving Lord's 

Some observers believe two Tests every year at Lord's gives English cricket's HQ an unfair slice of the pie but, if Chris Woakes had his way, England would probably never play anywhere else.

The Warwickshire all-rounder put a lacklustre first-innings outing behind him to demolish Ireland with a masterful display of seam and swing. Woakes' eventual figures of 6-17 mean he has 24 Lord's wickets at an average of 9.75 – the third best of any seamer at a single venue.

For context, the 30-year-old's overall Test analysis is 78 wickets at 31.06. All three of his five-wicket hauls - along with one tally of 10 in a match - have come at Lord's, where he scored his maiden and so-far only Test century against India last August.

Irish dreams shattered

When captain Will Porterfield and James McCollum emerged to start the Ireland chase, victory and history appeared within reach.

But 15.4 brutal overs later it was all over. McCollum was the only visiting batsman to reach double figures second time around as Ireland posted the seventh-worst score in Test history and the lowest ever at Lord's.

The talk in the NFL right now is about who is not there rather than who is.

In MLB, teams are starting to battle injuries and, in the NBA, a young team just locked up a key piece officially.

All that and more this week from the United States.

 

1. Holdout season

Let's be honest, NFL training camps aren't about who shows up anymore, they're about who is staying home. Le'Veon Bell didn't show up to Pittsburgh Steelers camp last season and missed the entire year because he refused to play under the franchise tag. That has to be in the back of everyone's minds this year as key players continue to stay away from their teams.

Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon is officially holding out for a new deal, Dallas Cowboys tailback Ezekiel Elliott wasn't on the plane with the team camp on Thursday and Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones also has yet to show up to any offseason activities with Kansas City.

Will any of these men be brave enough to do what Bell did and miss some of the season? We shall see.

 

2. Taylor Lewan's start of season in question

The Tennessee Titans are built on their offensive line, but one key piece may be gone to start the season.

Offensive tackle Taylor Lewan apologised to the Titans as he faces a four-game suspension after failing a drugs test. Lewan insists he never knowingly took a banned supplement.

This is huge to Tennessee's start to the year as quarterback Marcus Mariota has already dealt with a lot of injuries and will need all the protection he can get.

3. MLB injuries piling up

It's that time of year in baseball. As the 100-game mark passes, more little injuries start to pop up and playoff hopefuls have already been hit leading up to the trade deadline.

New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez is out with a groin injury for a while, Tampa Bay Rays lefty Blake Snell could be out for a month after undergoing surgery on his elbow and Texas Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo could miss a month with a hamate bone injury.

All three of these players' teams have playoff aspirations and they will need each man going into the playoffs. It's tough to get hurt now, but missing a month in July is far better than missing one in September.

 

4. Jamal Murray extended

The Denver Nuggets have one of the best teams in basketball and they secured their future this week by officially announcing they have signed Jamal Murray to a five-year max extension.

The deal is reportedly for $170million and will make him the highest-paid Canadian basketball player in NBA history, according to TSN.

The Nuggets finished second in the Western Conference last season and will have some of the best continuity of any team in the conference as they bring back a great young core which includes Murray and Nikola Jokic.

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