Steve Smith believes the return of "dangerous" England all-rounder Ben Stokes makes for a mouthwatering Ashes series.

Stokes has not played since July, having taken a break to protect his mental wellbeing while he also recovered from a broken finger.

The England vice-captain underwent a second operation on his finger but recently posted footage of himself batting and bowling in the nets.

Stokes was initially omitted from the squad for the tour of Australia, but the England and Wales Cricket Board on Monday announced that he has been added to the squad.

Australia batsman Smith has welcomed the news that Stokes will be involved, with the Ashes getting under way at The Gabba on December 8.

"I think any team's more dangerous when you've got someone like Ben Stokes playing," Smith said.

"It certainly adds a lot to their depth, but like I said we're excited and I'm glad personally that he's able to be back playing some cricket. It makes for a really good series."

 

Smith has been troubled by an elbow injury, but the former Australia captain does not expect it to be an issue when Tim Paine's side attempt to retain the urn.

Quoted in the Australian press on Tuesday, Smith said: "I've tried to bat every second day, or not bat three days in a row, just to take a bit of load off. On the days I'm batting, I'm batting for as long as I want to, which is nice.

"I'm still taking it easy at the moment. I'll build up again as we get closer to playing some longer format stuff. It is in a good place, it feels really good. I'm continuing with my strength work and my rehab stuff – I feel like I'm going well and progressing along nicely, so I've got no real concerns [for the Ashes]."

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is hopeful a crowd of at least 80,000 will be able to attend the Boxing Day Ashes Test at the MCG.

Melbourne residents this week celebrated coming out of a sixth lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

No city in the world has been locked down more than Melbourne, but further easing of restrictions have been mapped out by the Victorian government.

There is optimism that there will be a huge attendance when Australia do battle with England in the third Test in two months' time, provided vaccination rates continue to increase.

Andrews said on Sunday: "I want to see 80,000 plus people at the Boxing Day Test on day one, that's what I want to see.

"We are determined to deliver that. It won't be easy. I think selling the tickets will be pretty easy."

A crowd of 78,113 for the Anzac Day AFL match last April was the biggest at the MCG, which can hold in excess of 100,000 people, since the start of the pandemic.

South Africa captain Temba Bavuma insisted there were positives to take from his team's opening defeat to Australia at the T20 World Cup.

The Proteas fell to a five-wicket defeat in the first match of the Super 12 in Abu Dhabi, marking a reversal in the two teams' fortunes in the shortest format.

Bavuma's men went into the tournament having won each of their last three T20I series for the loss of just two matches.

By contrast, Australia have tasted defeat in their last five series.

But Aaron Finch's side had little difficulty chasing down a target of 119 as South Africa were left to rue a disappointing batting performance.

A series of timely boundaries from Marcus Stoinis got Australia over the line, but Bavuma was at least pleased with the spirit his team displayed in taking the contest to the last over.

"We always talk about us being resilient and there was an opportunity," Bavuma said.

"Big effort from the guys to get us to the last over. We just didn't get enough with the bat and it was always going to be tough for the bowlers, and it was a good effort from them to get it to this stage.

"As much as it was a day that didn't go to plan, we can take positives. We showed fight. We spoke during the half-time that we won't give up."

South Africa will look to bounce back against West Indies on Tuesday.

Australia turned the formbook on its head to start the T20 World Cup Super 12 stage with a five-wicket victory over South Africa.

South Africa have lost just two matches across their three T20I series in 2021, while Australia have suffered defeat in each of their past five series.

But Australia's decision to put the Proteas in to bat proved an astute one, Josh Hazlewood (2-19) leading a seam attack that got plenty out of the pitch while spinner Adam Zampa took 2-21.

Aiden Markram (40) provided the most substantial contribution to South Africa's underwhelming 118-9 and it was he who set in motion an unexpected fightback that brought a tense finish.

Despite losing Aaron Finch (0) and David Warner (14) early, Australia looked to be cruising at 80-3, however, Markram's magnificent diving catch broke Steve Smith (35) and Glenn Maxwell's (18) partnership by removing the former.

Tabraiz Shamsi then bowled Maxwell for his 50th T20I wicket three balls later to give South Africa further hope, but timely boundaries from Marcus Stoinis (24 not out) got Australia over the line with two balls to spare and off the mark in Group 1.

 

Australia won their fifth consecutive game after opening their end-of-year tour with a 32-23 win over Japan on Saturday.

Not since October 2015 had the Wallabies enjoyed a five-game winning streak but they ended that drought by holding off Japan in Oita.

Despite a disappointing second half, Australia snapped their run of five straight Tests without a win away from home, having outscored Japan five tries to two.

The Wallabies – winners of all five previous encounters against Japan by an average of 39 points per game – raced out to a 14-3 lead on the back of tries from Tom Wright and Jordan Petaia before Lomano Lemeki hit back for the hosts.

Taniela Tupou added to Australia's lead early in the second half and after Lemeki landed himself in the sin bin for a shoulder charger, Robert Leota also crossed over to make it 27-13 with 28 minutes remaining.

Just as Dave Rennie's men looked as if they would run away with victory, Japan closed within a converted try in pursuit of their first win over the Wallabies.

But Australia – who benefited from two conversions and a penalty from Quade Cooper – withstood some immense pressure on the road to stretch their unbeaten streak.

Australia spinner Nathan Lyon is expecting Ben Stokes to earn a late Ashes call-up and says he is eager to come up against England's star all-rounder.

Stokes missed England's home contests against India earlier in 2021 after announcing in July he was taking time off for his mental wellbeing and to allow a broken index finger to recover.

A second operation on that injury earlier this month preceded Stokes being left out of an initial 17-man squad for the five-Test Ashes series, which begins on December 8 in Brisbane, though he has since posted footage of him batting and bowling 

While a continued omission for Stokes, who is also not with England for the T20 World Cup, would obviously be a boost for Australia, Lyon remains hopeful he will go head-to-head with one of the best in the game.

"I'm expecting him to come. I'm expecting Stokes to be out here and, to be honest, I hope he is," Lyon told reporters at the Hurtsville Oval in Sydney, where the NSW Blues were playing an intra-squad practice match.

"You want to play against the best players in the world and Stokesy is the best all-rounder in the world. 

"He's an X-factor and he's a game-changer, and you want to play against these players, so I'm expecting Stokes to be here."

 

Stokes has 4631 runs in 71 Tests and a batting average of 37.04. With the ball, he has 163 wickets at an average of 31.38.

His absence would be a blow to an England batting line-up many feel is lacking in quality depth.

That is not an opinion shared by Lyon, though, who says he has a few surprises up his sleeve for Australia's greatest cricketing enemy.

"I've always got a couple of mystery balls," he said. "That's been the beauty about this pre-season, it's been my first ever proper pre-season. 

"I've been able to do a lot of fitness work and a lot of skills work. I've already started looking at a couple of England's batters, so that's exciting.

"They've got some very talented batters early in their Test careers. Look at Ollie Pope's last red-ball game. He got a pretty big double-hundred. 

"It's going to be a different challenge for these guys, coming out to Australia and we want that."

Australia fast bowler James Pattinson has retired from international cricket less than two months before the start of the Ashes.

The 31-year-old's start to the season has been delayed by COVID-19 lockdowns and an injury and the quick has decided to call time on representing his country.

Pattinson played for Australia 40 times and had been expected to add to his 21 Test appearances in the upcoming series against England, which is due to start at The Gabba on December 8.

"Leading into pre-season I really wanted to give the Ashes a crack but in the end, I haven't had the preparation I would have liked heading into the coming season," Pattinson said in a statement.

"If I was to be part of the Ashes I would need to do myself and my team-mates justice. I didn't want to be in a position of battling with my body when you need to be 100 per cent fit and ready to go at any time. That would not be fair to myself or the team.

"It was then I felt that instead of trying to play at the very highest level, knowing I have only got three or four years of cricket left, I would focus more on Victoria, helping the young guys develop, perhaps some cricket in England and spending more time with my family."

Pattinson made his Test comeback against England in 2019 following three-and-a-half years out of the side, having undergone surgery on a serious back injury.

He claimed 81 Test wickets at an average of 26.33, picking up four five-wicket hauls.

Sri Lanka eased to a straightforward seven-wicket victory over Namibia in their opening match of the T20 World Cup on Monday.

Namibia were dismissed for just 96 runs after being put into bat first, and Sri Lanka ultimately eclipsed that total as early as the 14th over.

Maheesh Theekshana was a key part of the Sri Lanka attack, taking Stephan Baard on his first delivery, before also claiming the scalps of Zane Green and Jan Frylinck, ending the day at 3-25.

Craig Williams (29) was the only Namibian to get more than 20, though his haul was hardly emphatic given it came off 36 balls and included just two boundaries.

Sri Lanka's innings did not start particularly impressively given they were 26-3 after the first ball of the sixth over, but Avishka Fernando (30 not out) and Bhanuka Rajapaksa (42 not out) had a steadying impact as they got them over the line at 100-3.

The day's early Group A match saw Ireland win in similarly comprehensive fashion against the Netherlands, with the bowlers again having the decisive impact during a seven-wicket victory.

Curtis Campher (4-26) incredibly took all four of his wickets in succession to leave the Dutch in disarray, becoming only the third man after Lasith Malinga and Rashid Khan to achieve the feat in a T20I, while Mark Adair was even more efficient with figures of 3-9 in his four overs.

Like Campher, Adair's treble came in a row and right at the end as the Netherlands could only set a target of 106.

Paul Stirling (30 not out) kept things ticking over throughout with a professional – if unspectacular – knock, but Gareth Delany (44) top scored for the Irish. By the time he was eventually stopped by Pieter Seelaar's yorker, Ireland only needed another 12 runs.

Elsewhere, several of the tournament favourites were in action in warm-up matches. India beat England by seven wickets with six balls remaining partly down to swift 50s by KL Rahul and Ishan Kishan, while Australia's 159-7 saw them defeat New Zealand with one ball left.

South Africa enjoyed a comfortable 41-run win over Afghanistan and Pakistan defeated the West Indies by seven wickets in a little over 15 overs.

Josh Inglis says he would sacrifice any personal success if it meant Australia claim glory at the upcoming T20 World Cup.

The wicketkeeper has been called up to represent his country for the first time ahead of the first edition of this tournament for five years, with Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) hosting.

Uncapped, English-born Inglis has been tipped to play a key role for Australia and he was thrilled to get the call-up after a stunning run of form in domestic cricket.

"It was pure elation really," he said. "I was in the UK at the time, in The Hundred competition, so to get the call was amazing, gave me a huge boost, I'm just really proud.

"[A perfect tournament] looks like winning the World Cup. When you come to a tournament, your aim is to win, if you're thinking about personal success you're probably in the wrong game.

"I would be more than happy to score zero runs for the tournament and lift the trophy. Everyone wants success but the goal is to lift that trophy.

"There is probably not too much expectation on me so I don't think I can worry about that or the fact that I haven't got the international experience. 

"I've played against a lot of international players in the Blast and The Hundred, I can definitely lean on those. 

"Once you get into the heat of the battle, you just get into it and come back to what's natural to you. If given the opportunity, I'm really looking forward to that."

Inglis is yet to discuss his role with coach Justin Langer but believes he will bat in the middle order if given the chance to play.

He starred in the T20 Blast for Leicestershire this year, scoring the most runs (531) of any player in England's domestic T20 competition. 

Per Stats Perform data, Inglis scored a boundary once every 3.5 balls faced, the third most frequent of any player (min. six innings) in the campaign (behind Alex Hales – 3.2 and Will Jacks – 3.4). 

In that time, he hit 63 fours, a tournament high and almost double the tally of his next best team-mate (Arron Lilley – 32).

Only Hales had a higher strike rate of the top-five run tournament scorers than his 175.8

Asked if his form in England had given him a boost, Inglis added: "Absolutely. It was one of the reasons I was keen to get over there, to play in different conditions and test my game in different conditions. 

"As you see sometimes in the UK, with lots of cricket, the wickets do get a bit tired. 

"So playing on slower wickets over there, I can really take that to the World Cup and playing on some of the slower pitches here."

Inglis has also been a leading performer in the Big Bash League.

In the 2020-21 BBL, Inglis logged an Opta batting dot-ball percentage of just 26.8 per cent. Among players to face at least 60 balls in the most recent edition only Jordan Silk (23.9) had a better rate.

Across the last two BBL campaigns Inglis has the third-highest strike rate (146.6) of the 25 players to score 500+ runs.

Inglis' strength against spin has been cited as a key reason for his selection for the T20 tournament, which gets under way on Sunday with the first round.

"I really enjoy batting against spin," he added. "I see it as a good challenge to score off every ball and try and manipulate the field to where you want to get it.

"It's really good fun, really enjoy it and easier on flatter wickets. We'll see what the conditions will be like here, it's going to be a challenge going up against some of the best spinners in the world."

Australia begin their campaign against South Africa on October 23 in what will be the first match of the Super 12 stage.

Australia's perfect record in World Cup 2022 qualifying was ended in a 2-1 defeat to Japan on Tuesday.

The Socceroos had won all 11 games on the road to Qatar – setting a record in the process – and each of their last 12 games stretching back into the last campaign.

But Ao Tanaka's early strike in Saitama and a late own goal from Aziz Behich, either side of Ajdin Hrustic's leveller, inflicted a first competitive defeat on Australia since January 2019.

Graham Arnold's side could now see top spot in Group B relinquished to Saudi Arabia, who play later on Thursday. Only the top two sides will qualify automatically for the World Cup.

Japan entered the game unbeaten in seven meetings with Australia and they were ahead inside eight minutes when Tanaka drilled a low shot into the bottom-left corner.

Australia went close to equalising before half-time as Adam Taggart's shot was tipped onto the upright and Aaron Mooy's effort was blocked in front of goal from the follow-up.

The visitors then had a penalty overturned as the officials felt Hidemasa Morita's challenge on Hrustic was outside the box, but the fouled player still made Japan pay as his powerful free-kick crashed in off the underside off the crossbar.

But it was Japan who snatched a winner with five minutes remaining.

Mat Ryan could only parry substitute Takuma Asano's deflected shot into the air and Behich, in an attempt to clear the ball from under the crossbar, turned it into his own net.

England's players are "desperate" to travel to Australia for the Ashes after the five-match series was conditionally approved by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), says all-rounder Chris Woakes.

The ECB confirmed on Friday that the tour – due to start at The Gabba on December 8 – would go ahead "subject to several critical conditions" being met regarding travel, quarantine and 'bubble' arrangements.

Captain Joe Root and deputy Jos Buttler are among the players that had previously stated they were not ready to commit to the series due to uncertainty over COVID-19 restrictions.

But while still holding some reservations concerning the logistical side of the tour, Woakes is looking forward to travelling to Australia after being named in England's 17-man group on Sunday.

"There is no player that does not want to be part of the Ashes," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"Behind the scenes there are still things being ironed out between all sorts of levels. I think the players are relatively relaxed and the guys are desperate to go.

"But we want to be under the best sort of conditions possible so we can still live our lives outside of cricket."

 

Woakes, who has made 39 Test appearances for England, is one of five players to have been named in both the Ashes and T20 World Cup squads.

While the focus is largely on the showdown with Australia, Woakes will not let that influence his preparations for the World Cup, which begins later this week.
 
"It's exciting that there is an Ashes series around the corner, but there is a small thing of the World Cup first, so obviously I have my eyes firmly on that," he told reporters.

"We have a T20 World Cup to focus on and prep for and as soon as that is done and dusted our attention will shift. 

"We have no choice – you don't want to get to the end of a World Cup and think 'I wasn’t fully engaged'.

"We have to give this our full attention – what is going on with the Ashes is on the back burner and with the people who are making the decisions, kind of dealing with that on our behalf. You can't get too fixated on that.

"It is important we focus on the here and now. It is a great opportunity to win some silverware for your country. The Ashes stuff will have to be parked."

Ben Stokes was not included in the England squad for the Ashes tour of Australia.

The all-rounder was expected to be left out of the 17-man group after having a second operation on his broken index finger.

Stokes, who sustained the injury while playing in the Indian Premier League in April, announced in July he was taking a break from cricket to protect his mental wellbeing and allow his finger to recover.

Sam Curran, who was diagnosed with a stress fracture to his lower back in the past week, was also omitted from head coach Chris Silverwood's squad for the five-match series in Australia, which starts on December 8 in Brisbane.

Fast bowlers Jofra Archer and Olly Stone remain absent as they recover from injuries, but Stuart Broad is selected after suffering a torn calf muscle during England's home Test series with India in July.

Joe Root will be captain and Jos Buttler vice-captain of a side consisting entirely of players previously capped at Test level.

 

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) only confirmed on Friday that the tour would be going ahead amid possible concerns around coronavirus restrictions in Australia.

While "several critical conditions" must still be met for the Ashes to proceed, the ECB said "positive discussions" were ongoing and that "it is hoped matters will be resolved in due course".

Silverwood said he was "delighted that all of our available players have committed to the tour" despite the likes of Root and Buttler previously expressing doubts.

"A tour of Australia is the pinnacle as an England Test cricketer," he said.

"This is why we play and coach to be involved in iconic series like this. More than half of our squad haven't featured in an Ashes tour before, which means we will be fresh and looking to embrace the cricket and the excitement of touring one of the best places in the world.

"I believe we have selected a well-balanced squad with options in all areas and a blend of youth and experience. There is real competition for places and a genuine desire to work hard and compete, aiming to create some history."

England are looking to regain the urn after it was retained by Australia following a 2-2 series draw in 2019.

England squad for the Ashes:

Joe Root (captain), James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler (wicketkeeper), Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has conditionally approved for The Ashes tour to go ahead in Australia.

England captain Joe Root and his deputy Jos Buttler are among the players who stated they were not ready to commit to the five-match series due to uncertainty over coronavirus restrictions.

Bubble fatigue and quarantine periods for the players' families are issues that have been raised, leading to doubts over whether the five-match Test series – due to start at The Gabba on December 8 – will go ahead.

The ECB on Friday confirmed England will tour Australia, providing "several critical conditions" are met before they board the plane.

"Over recent weeks we have made excellent progress in moving forward on the England men's Ashes Tour," an ECB statement said.

"To facilitate further progress and allow a squad to be selected, The ECB Board has met today and given its approval for the tour to go ahead.

"This decision is subject to several critical conditions being met before we travel.

"We look forward to the ongoing assistance from Cricket Australia in resolving these matters in the coming days."

Australia captain Tim Paine earlier stated he expects England to bring a "really strong" side to Australia, with only "one or two" players opting out of the tour.

"I'm hearing a lot of their players will commit," the wicketkeeper told SEN Radio.

"There might be one or two that don't, but I think we'll see a really strong England side come out here."

Australia's prime minister Scott Morrison last month warned England will not benefit from any "special deals" regarding quarantine rules when they arrive in the country.

Paine says he has spoken to the prime minister as Australia wait for confirmation that England will make the long journey to try to regain the urn.

"He was keen to find out what the sticking points might be from a player's perspective," said Paine of his conversations with Morrison.

"I shared a few text messages with him. He loves his cricket."

Tim Paine expects England to bring a "really strong" team side to Australia for the Ashes with only "one or two" players opting out of the tour.

Captain Joe Root and his deputy Jos Buttler are among the England players who stated they were not ready to commit to the five-match series due to uncertainty over coronavirus restrictions.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is expected to confirm the tour will go ahead following a meeting on Friday, a day after chairman Ian Watmore stepped down.

Australia skipper Paine insisted the Ashes will be starting at The Gabba on December 8 regardless of whether Root decides to travel.

Paine on Friday revealed he has been informed that England will not be hugely depleted.

"I'm hearing a lot of their players will commit," the wicketkeeper told SEN Radio.

"There might be one or two that don't, but I think we'll see a really strong England side come out here."

Australia's prime minister Scott Morrison last month warned England will not benefit from any "special deals" regarding quarantine rules when they arrive in the country.

Paine says he has spoken to the prime minister as Australia wait for confirmation that England will make the long journey to try to regain the urn.

"He was keen to find out what the sticking points might be from a player's perspective," said Paine of his conversations with Morrison.

"I shared a few text messages with him. He loves his cricket."

Will Skelton, Rory Arnold and Tolu Latu have been recalled to the Australia squad for their upcoming tour of the northern hemisphere.

The France-based trio were on Friday named in a 37-man party to face Japan at Oita Stadium on October 23 before travelling to Europe to take on Scotland, England and Wales next month.

Skelton has not played for the Wallabies since 2016, but the towering La Rochelle lock is set to add to his 18 caps.

Fellow second-rower Arnold, who plies his trade with Toulouse in the Top 14, and Stade Francais hooker Latu have not played for their country since the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Lalakai Foketi, Izaia Perese, Pone Fa'amausili and Connal McInerney are the uncapped quartet in the squad.

Japan-based trio Quade Cooper, Sean McMahon and Samu Kerevi – who has recovered from an ankle injury – were included on the back of Australia's second-placed finish behind New Zealand in the Rugby Championship.

Dave Rennie's side have won four consecutive games, seeing off world champions South Africa and Argentina twice.

Head coach Rennie said: "Firstly we're extremely grateful to be able to represent Australia on the world stage in the current environment and that's something that's not lost on this group.

"We've been building as a squad over the past 18 months or so and to get a chance to head to the northern hemisphere and test ourselves against four really strong International sides is a great opportunity to learn more about ourselves."

 

Australia squad: Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Angus Bell, Quade Cooper, Filipo Daugunu, Pone Fa'amausili, Folau Fainga'a, Lalakai Foketi, Jake Gordon, Reece Hodge, Michael Hooper (captain), Len Ikitau, Feleti Kaitu'u, Andrew Kellaway, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Tolu Latu, Rob Leota, Tate McDermott, Connal McInerney, Sean McMahon, James O’Connor, Hunter Paisami, Izaia Perese, Jordan Petaia, Matt Philip, Tom Robertson, Izack Rodda, Pete Samu, Will Skelton, James Slipper, Darcy Swain, Lachlan Swinton, Taniela Tupou, Rob Valetini, Nic White, Tom Wright.

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