|Venue: Gabba, Brisbane Dates: 8-12 December Time: 00:00 GMT|
|Coverage: Ball-by-ball commentary on Test Match Special, plus live text commentary, features and analysis on the BBC Sport website and app|
One series win in 34 years and a recent record of played 10, lost nine, won none – an Ashes tour of Australia is perhaps the hardest assignment an England cricketer will face.
It’s hot, the conditions are markedly different, the home crowd is, to put it kindly, against you and Australia are particularly good. Especially at home.
So how do Joe Root’s England combat everything thrown their way and win down under this winter?
Make good use of the new ball
Once Australia get on top of their opponents they are notoriously ruthless, so good starts with bat and ball are key.
It’s generally accepted you need fast, 90mph bowlers to be successful in Australia, but without the injured Jofra Archer and Olly Stone, England will be relying on Mark Wood.
Pace isn’t everything, though. It’s quite striking how tall fast bowlers outperform the rest with the new ball in Australia.
New-ball average for seamers in Australia in last decade
The bowlers who benefit from a high release in the England squad touring Australia are Craig Overton and Ollie Robinson.
James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes are ‘above average’, Ben Stokes is ‘below average’ and Mark Wood delivers from a ‘low’ trajectory.
It’s only after the ball has stopped moving – typically after around 25 overs – that extra pace becomes important once again.
Stop Steve Smith
This, unfortunately, is easier said than done.
Smith averaged 137 during England’s last tour down under – facing 1,416 deliveries in that time. He wore England down to the brink of defeat.
He does have a chink in his armour, though.
Smith averages significantly less when the ball is delivered outside off stump – think a ‘fourth and fifth stump’ line.
Where not to bowl is at his body. Smith is a brilliant puller and hooker of the ball and averages a quite staggering 244 against pace in Australia when the ball is delivered towards his chest area.
England, it would seem, have noticed this. And there is a realisation too that Australia’s strength can often be England’s batting weakness.
“Australians are typically good between the shoulder and hip/chest area – the pull shot area,” England’s Wood told the Project Ashes podcast.
“They are used to that area so much, and we’re not, so we have to get better at that.”
Smith was dismissed three times in as many matches by off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin in the most recent series against India. Can England’s left-arm spinner Jack Leach have similar success?
Keep it tight
So the key to keeping Smith in check is to bowl a line and length that may seem slightly negative, and certainly doesn’t fit into the pace and fire category many observers believes brings results in Australia.
Australia’s last Test assignment was a series defeat at home by India at the turn of the year – and those matches back up the assertion that a patient style of play can reap rewards.
“India have shown England how to win in Australia,” said former England captain Sir Alastair Cook.
“You have to be so resilient and patient to take the game deep. If England can do that, history has shown in the last couple of years that Australia don’t handle the pressure well. Headingley 2019 is a prime example.”
India limited Australia to just three runs per over in their most recent series, which England managed successfully last time out too.
However, the difference was that once the pressure had been created, India had bowlers to take wickets.
England know they need to be more incisive when the big moments arrive.
Trust in Pope
|A Mankad||Wankhede, Mumbai||106.30|
|V Merchant||Brabourne, Mumbai||105.41|
|D Bradman||Melbourne Cricket Ground||103.17|
|O Pope||The Oval||99.94|
Ollie Pope has got a quite staggering first-class record at The Oval for his county Surrey, averaging 99.94 (ironically the same Test average as perhaps the greatest of them all, Australia’s Don Bradman).
The Oval is probably the most Australian like of all English pitches because of its pace, bounce and flat nature.
If England’s top order can take the shine off the new ball, tire the Australian quicks and lay a platform for Pope down the order, we could see some big runs from the elegant right-hander.
However, will Pope even play? It would appear Jonny Bairstow has the edge in the battle for the number six spot at the moment.
Are England missing a trick by not plumping for Pope?
Don’t fall into the pink ball trap
We’ll end this with a rather surprising fact – the pink ball doesn’t swing as much in Australia as the red ball!
It’s become urban legend that England’s best chance of success will be in Adelaide, where the pink ball will hopefully swing round corners under the lights in the day-night Test.
That may not happen through, and bear in mind India were bowled out for 36 in clear Australian sun last year. And 28 of the 30 wickets to fall in India’s day-night Test against England earlier this year fell to spin.
Oh, and Australia have won every single day-night Test they have hosted.
Maybe the Gabba is England’s best chance of victory after all…
Data provided by Ben Jones at Cricviz