Joe Denly will have no sympathy for Australia if they are taunted over the 2018 ball-tampering scandal by England fans during the Ashes.

Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft have been included in Australia's squad for the first Test at Edgbaston on Thursday.

All three players were handed suspensions by Cricket Australia following their involvement in altering the condition of the ball during a match against South Africa in March 2018.

Smith and Warner returned to Australia's squad for the Cricket World Cup after serving 12-month bans and were the targets of jibes from England supporters in a warm-up match, a group-stage clash and the semi-final.

Bancroft, meanwhile, is "very close" to making his first international appearance since a nine-month suspension, according to coach Justin Langer, who acknowledged on Tuesday his side can do little to avoid negative treatment from the home crowd.

And Denly, who will bat at four in the opening Test with Joe Root moving up to three, believes England would not be received any differently by Australia supporters if the situation was reversed.

"If it was the other way around and we were going out to Australia, I'm pretty sure we would hear a lot about it," he told a media conference.

"What the crowd decides to do I don't know. I'm sure the Aussies might hear a little bit about sandpaper-gate throughout the series.

"I can't really comment on how [the crowd] will be feeling but after a few beers I'm sure the Aussies might get a bit of stick."

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.

Cameron Bancroft's return to the Australia line-up for the opening Ashes Test against England would be a great story, according to Justin Langer.

Bancroft has been named in Australia's squad for the match at Edgbaston on Thursday, his first international involvement since serving a nine-month suspension for his role in the ball-tampering incident in Cape Town in March 2018.

David Warner and Steve Smith were also banned from all forms for 12 months but returned to help Australia to the Cricket World Cup semi-finals.

Langer confirmed on Tuesday Warner will be fit to feature in Birmingham despite suffering a bruised thigh in Monday's training session.

It is not yet clear who will partner Australia's former vice-captain at the top of the order, but Langer is delighted to have Bancroft, who scored an impressive unbeaten 93 in an intra-squad warm-up at the Rose Bowl last week, back in the fold.

"He's close. He's very close," Langer told a news conference. "He's one of two openers we could pick I reckon.

"It'd be a great story. If he comes back in the team it'll be a really great story, from where he's come from.

"I think his learnings over the last 14 months – he's gone away and played really good [Sheffield] Shield cricket, he's averaged 57 or 58 at the back end of the Shield season.

"He's averaged 40-odd for Durham, he played really well last week, he brings energy to the team.

"His development over the last 12 months after what happened in Cape Town has been absolutely extraordinary. We're that proud of him so if he gets the nod he'll be very excited about playing for Australia again."

Smith and Warner received hostile receptions from the English crowd at the World Cup, and though Langer is not expecting Bancroft to get a warm welcome, he believes it is nothing out of the ordinary heading into an Ashes series.

"I know what the reception is going to be, I think we all do," Langer continued. 

"There's nothing we can do about that, it's 100 per cent out of our control, it's out of their control and there's nothing we can do about it.

"We've been to lots of Ashes series, and England are the same when they come to Australia, it's really tough. That's the environment we're in.

"You go to Cape Town, go to Johannesburg – it's like being in the Gladiator movie!"

David Warner will be fit to open the batting for Australia against England in the first Ashes Test, coach Justin Langer has said.

There was concern on Monday when Warner needed medical treatment after inside-edging a delivery from Michael Neser onto his thigh.

However, the 32-year-old was back in the nets on Tuesday and Langer confirmed that Warner will feature when the opening Test begins at Edgbaston on Thursday. 

"He's fine," Langer told a news conference.

"He would not miss this for anything in the world, I reckon. He can't wait. He's that excited [for an] an Ashes Test match. 

"Steve Waugh's in the changing room so a few little bruises every now and again...there's no way he's not walking out to bat.

"Tugga would probably kick him out the door, I reckon. He's fine.

"He got a little bruise [from being] hit on the leg yesterday, he's a bit stiff this morning but he will be 100 per cent ready to go."

England and Australia will spend the next seven weeks as fierce rivals with the Ashes on the line.

The return from suspension of three Australia star batsmen means the visitors are back up to full strength as they chase a first Test series win in England for 18 years.

The triumphant 2001 side was loaded with all-time greats including Steve and Mark Waugh, Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist.

Few of the England team of the day would have earned a place in Australia's side, such was the absurd strength of the tourists' squad.

However, the gap has closed considerably in the years since, and merging the teams for a combined Ashes XI in 2019 would test the judgment of any selector.

Here is a look at how such a team might look, with grovelling apologies to the strong contenders who missed the cut.


Cameron Bancroft (Australia)

Edgbaston will have a welcome waiting for the man who used sandpaper to tamper with the ball during Australia's Test with South Africa at Newlands last year. Bancroft has the runs for Durham this year to justify his return to Australia's ranks on form, even if many might feel uneasy about his presence after serving a nine-month ban. It could be touch and go whether he opens or bats in the middle order, but he gets the nod for this XI on the basis of England being in an opener crisis.

David Warner (Australia)

The brains behind the Newlands plot is also back in the Test arena. Warner is a mighty batsman, and nobody would question his ability. He comes into the Ashes off a fine World Cup performance, and his wicket will be a prized one within the England ranks. Described in one newspaper verdict of sandpapergate as "the most hated man in cricket", Warner is the man the home crowds would love to see fail, even if privately they would happily have him on their side.

Steve Smith (Australia)

Culled as captain, and banned along with Warner for a year, Smith did nothing to prevent Bancroft and Warner's actions and he will be braced for a barrage of flak during the Ashes. He has the batting chops and the temperament to handle sledging from the stands, however. Smith is the finest middle-order batsman of his generation, a rock of Australia's team and, past mistakes notwithstanding, a de facto leader.

Joe Root (England, captain)

If questions are asked of England's batting line-up, England's skipper usually finds an answer. He may need to provide the glue to bond together several unstable innings over the coming weeks, and there are few more accomplished anchor batsmen in world cricket. His team are the bookmakers' favourites to take the urn, with Root's contribution expected to be pivotal.

Jonny Bairstow (England)

A galvanising force behind England's glorious World Cup campaign, Bairstow has produced worrisome form in the longest format and went for a pair against Ireland. He averages 25.83 in 10 Tests over the past 12 months, dragging down his overall batting average. The Ashes might bring the best out of the Yorkshireman.

Ben Stokes (England)

Stokes will hope to enjoy August 2019 more than August 2018, when he faced the stress of a crown court trial on a charge of affray. Stokes cleared his name and has moved on, reinstated for the Ashes as England's vice-captain and hailed a national hero after his World Cup exploits. Many have crumbled in the face of comparisons to Ian Botham but Stokes thrives on the all-rounder role and could far surpass Beefy's achievements before his career is out. A man who seems made for an Ashes series.

Jos Buttler (England, wicketkeeper)

Tim Paine captains Australia, as well as keeping wicket, because in both senses he is considered a safe pair of hands. But Buttler gets the stumps role here, his explosive batting a tremendous complement to his skill with the gloves. Buttler has come on as a Test cricketer in the last year, as well as being a key component of the white-ball team that many expect him to captain before long. He gives back the Test vice-captaincy to Stokes for this series, but is unlikely to mind.

Pat Cummins (Australia)

Rated by the ICC as the world's number one bowler, Cummins has taken wickets at a prolific rate over the past couple of years. He would earn his place on that basis alone, but Cummins can bat too and made three scores in the forties in the last Ashes series. Years of injury woe are behind him, with the tall paceman capable of wreaking havoc in this series.

Jofra Archer (England)

Here's the wild card. Archer is launching his Test career in the Ashes but has already demonstrated he is a swimmer when tossed in at the deep end. The Barbados-born fast bowler enjoyed a terrific World Cup, defying a painful side strain to emerge as a star of the tournament. The 24-year-old looks like the man England have been waiting for, as the established Anderson-Broad axis enters its twilight days. He should thrive, and play in many of these series.

Nathan Lyon (Australia)

England have worries in the spin department when it comes to Tests, with neither Moeen Ali nor Adil Rashid establishing themselves as reliable wicket-taking slow bowlers at this level. Lyon's average is comfortably better than both England men, and with 86 Tests behind him the one-time Adelaide Oval groundsman has come a long way in the game. He has pouched 343 Test wickets and, regardless of conditions that should favour the seamers, will fancy taking more victims on this tour. A shoo-in for an Ashes dream team.

James Anderson (England)

This will be an Ashes farewell, surely, for Anderson. Few would doubt his capacity to go out in style, with the 37-year-old bidding to add to 575 Test wickets, 104 of which have accounted for Australians. He has succeeded McGrath as the preeminent paceman in the ongoing story of the Ashes, with few seamers capable of matching the craft of the man from Burnley. A late-summer Ashes, after the British heatwave, with plenty of cloud cover likely, could have been designed for Anderson.

Australia opener David Warner eased fears over his thigh injury by batting in the nets on Tuesday ahead of the first Ashes Test.

Warner required treatment on Monday having inside-edged a delivery from seamer Michael Neser onto his left thigh.

Coach Justin Langer said the 32-year-old was "fine" after the session, and he was back facing deliveries in Birmingham the following day.

Warner has not played a Test since March 2018 due to his suspension following the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa.

However, is expected to be pivotal to Australia's fortunes as they try and win an Ashes series in England for the first time since 2001.

Usman Khawaja will bat at three for Australia against England at Edgbaston while James Pattinson is also likely to be included in the team for the first Ashes Test, coach Justin Langer has confirmed.

Khawaja has not played since suffering a hamstring injury against South Africa in the Cricket World Cup group stage on July 6 and he missed the intra-squad warm-up game last week in Southampton.

However, Langer said the 32-year-old has since proven his fitness and will feature against England when the first Test begins on Thursday.

"Usman Khawaja will definitely be in," Langer told reporters.

"He's fit, ready to go, he's playing well.

"He's a seasoned pro for us, he averages 40-odd in Test cricket, his hammy is good, he's running well, he's passed all the fitness tests so he's ready to go. He'll bat number three."

The attack Langer will pick at Edgbaston is more difficult to predict, though the coach did reveal Pattinson is set to be one of his bowlers.

Pattinson has not played a Test since February 2016 but impressed for Australia A earlier this month and then starred again in the intra-squad contest - when he took 3-19 in 13 overs in the second innings.

"It's a great story isn't it, coming back from where he was as a young bowler, the back surgeries, to more than likely being selected for this Test match, it's a great story," Langer added.

David Warner is a certainty to open the batting, though there was concern about his fitness at training on Monday after he required treatment having edged a ball from Michael Neser into his thigh.

However, Langer allayed any fears over Warner's injury, adding: "Davey's fine, I think he got one in the inside of the leg.

"I haven't been over there since training, hopefully he'll be fine. I haven't heard anything different."

Australia trained at Edgbaston on Monday where there was a reminder about the ODI team's last visit to the ground.

England beat Langer's team in the World Cup semi-final earlier this month and the scoreboard at the ground displayed the figures from the successful run chase, something which former Australia seamer Jason Gillespie called an "interesting decision".

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.

Returning Australia Test stars Steve Smith and David Warner can silence critics in the England crowd by starting strongly in the Ashes, says former star Glenn McGrath.

Smith and Warner are set to play in the longest format this week for the first time since they served bans for their roles in a ball-tampering fiasco in South Africa last year.

The pair endured some light jibing from supporters during the Cricket World Cup in England and Wales, but it is anticipated Test returns at Edgbaston might see a harsher welcome.

McGrath believes the best way for Smith and Warner to respond will be to make a fast start in Birmingham on Thursday.

"I think they are professional and they're both two quality players, both fairly mentally tough as well," McGrath said of the duo.

"It's important to get off to a good start. If they get off to a good start, start scoring runs and answer with the bat, then they'll be fine.

"They've got a little bit of a taste of it during the World Cup - I think, in a couple of matches against England, the crowd let them know what was coming up - so they'll be expecting it.

"But if they go out there and score runs, it'll make it better for them."

Warner sustained a bruise to his left thigh on Monday, but England also have fitness concerns, with James Anderson facing a race to be fit for the opener.

And McGrath sees Anderson as key to home hopes in the upcoming series.

"I think [seam] will have an impact, there's no doubt about that," he said. "Jimmy Anderson has got so much experience.

"I think he's played 148 Tests, about 575 wickets, I think I saw the other day, which is absolutely incredible. And when the conditions suit him, with that Dukes ball, he's better than anyone on the planet.

"The Australian batsmen have to adapt to that and get on top of him. And the Australian bowlers have to adjust and adapt to bowling different lengths here to what they do back home.

"It will have a big impact and the Dukes cricket ball just feels so good in the hand - big seam and happy days."

David Warner suffered a bruised thigh in training on Monday, dealing Australia a potential blow ahead of their Ashes opener.

The tourists were preparing on the Edgbaston pitch before the first Test against England, which starts on Thursday, when Warner inside-edged a ball from Michael Neser into his left thigh.

He was pictured receiving attention from medical staff and was required to treat the injury with ice.

Warner is set to be a key man for Australia in this series, the opener playing Test cricket again for the first time since the fateful tour of South Africa last year.

Vice-captain at the time, Warner - along with then-skipper Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft - were each banned for their roles in a ball-tampering scandal.

The trio are all in the Australia Ashes squad, together for the first time since serving their suspensions, as Australia look to retain the urn.

 

England, meanwhile, were boosted by James Anderson being able to bowl on Monday.

The leader of England's pace attack wore a compression sock on his right leg as he continues to recover from a calf injury sustained playing for Lancashire.

Jofra Archer is in line to make his Test bow having recovered from a side strain, an injury he played with during England's successful World Cup campaign.

Marnus Labuschagne is confident in his ability to make an impact with bat and ball for Australia after earning a debut Ashes call-up.

The all-rounder was selected as part of the 17-man touring squad for the five-match series with England, which begins on Thursday at Edgbaston.

Labuschagne has enjoyed a stunning season for Glamorgan in County Championship Division Two. He leads the competition with 1,114 runs at an average of 65.52 with five hundreds and five half-centuries.

A leg-spinner, Labuschagne has also taken 19 wickets for Glamorgan and, though he is not quite sure where he will be asked to bat, he has little doubt he can deliver what is asked of him.

"I'm not sure where I'll be batting if I'm playing," Labuschagne said. "Wherever it is I'll be able to fill that role and at times I'll be called on to bowl, which is great because I've been doing that the whole summer here in county cricket, it's been a good opportunity to get some overs under my belt."

Labuschagne scored just 47 runs across two innings in a warm-up match between Australia and Australia A in which he was asked to bowl only one over.

Asked if he was confident he would make the squad after that outing, he replied: "I think me personally being here the whole summer, I obviously scored some runs and was really happy with where my game was at that stage.

"For me, coming into that game it was about really trusting what I've been doing the whole season and trusting my preparation and then just going out and enjoying it, whichever way it was swung was the way it was and it was obviously great to be on this end."

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.

Paul Farbrace has backed England to end "serial winner" Trevor Bayliss' reign as it started with an Ashes triumph over Australia.

Bayliss will step down as head coach following a five-match series which starts at Edgbaston on Thursday.

The Australian has transformed England from Cricket World Cup failures in 2015 to champions on home soil this month.

Bayliss masterminded a home Ashes win over Australia in his first series in charge four years ago and his former long-time assistant Farbrace believes Joe Root's side can finish the 56-year-old's tenure on a high note.

Farbrace, so influential working alongside Bayliss before taking over as Warwickshire sports director in March, told Omnisport: "I think Trevor has done a brilliant job and I'm so chuffed they won the World Cup.

"I know how much time and effort that has gone in over the years, with staff from the behind the scenes and a lot of people who won't ever be recognised for their part - such as the sports science department, physios and medics, there is an awful lot of work that goes into the planning.

"But ultimately Trevor has steered the ship with Morgs [captain Eoin Morgan] towards winning that World Cup and the pair of them deserve all the accolades they get, because they have done an outstanding job for England over the last four years.

"Trevor is a unique character and has done exceptionally well everywhere he's been. Some coaches have good reputations for the odd thing, but he is a serial winner.

"He's been in two World Cup finals, two T20 finals, won the IPL, the Big Bash. His record is exceptional, so it is so pleasing to see him finish the white-ball stuff in the way he has."

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.

"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 with a great bowling attack, strong middle-order and hopefully the top order can fire."

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