It all comes down to this. After 14 days of Test cricket that has yet to produce a match-winner, Pakistan's home series against Australia will be decided on the final day in Lahore, and it could hardly be any more tantalisingly poised.

Australia opener Usman Khawaja delivered another classy century on Thursday, remarkably his fourth of the calendar year, as Australia posted 227-3 declared to set Pakistan a target of 351 for victory in the third and final Test.

The tourists would have wanted to make inroads into their opponents' top order before the close, but instead Pakistan reached 73 without loss from the 27 overs they faced after Australia's post-tea declaration.

It means Pakistan require a further 278 runs for victory and Australia need 10 wickets on day five at the Gaddafi Stadium, where something surely has to give.

 

Australia's men are unbeaten in their last seven Tests (W4 D3), and Pakistan have not lost any of their last five (W3 D2).

The Australians have been beaten only once by Pakistan in the last nine Tests between the sides, yet Pakistan have just a single defeat in their last 12 Tests at this ground, and that was against Sri Lanka all the way back in March 2002.

After draws in Rawalpindi and Karachi, this match looks ripe to produce a victory for one of the teams, but it could easily go either way.

Australia were 11-0 at the start of play and reached 96 without any loss when Shaheen Shah Afridi bowled David Warner for 51 with a sensationally good delivery. Khawaja kept going and anchored the innings with 104 not out, Marnus Labuschagne weighing in with 36 and Steve Smith passing 8,000 career Test runs in making 17.

Captain Pat Cummins declared early in the late-afternoon session, once the lead passed 350, but Abdullah Shafique (27 not out) and Imam-ul-Haq (42 not out) helped Pakistan to the close without any damage.

Shafique used up a life moments before the close when he edged spinner Labuschagne past the left hand of Smith at first slip, potentially a highly costly miss by the fielder.


Khawaja does it again

Khawaja, who was born in Pakistan, did not play a Test between matches against England in August 2019 and January of this year. It is testament to Australia's resources that they could afford to leave out a batter of his quality. The 35-year-old made 91 in the first innings of this match and surpassed that second time around.

He now has 751 runs in five Tests this year, far and away the most of anyone in Tests. Shafique is second on that list, with 397 runs and counting.

Record for Smith, but dropped catch sours his day

Australia would have ended the day on a high if Smith had clung on to the sharp chance from the penultimate delivery of the day. Shafique drove aggressively at Labuschagne, who drew the edge but saw the ball race away to the boundary rather than stick in Smith's claw.

Smith earlier reached his runs landmark in his 151st Test innings, the fewest of any batsman to have reached 8,000 Test runs.

Steve Smith set a world record by reaching 8,000 Test runs on Thursday, as the Australia talisman became the batter to reach that total in the fewest innings.

Former captain Smith became the seventh Australian to reach the landmark figure, doing so in his second innings against Pakistan in Lahore.

The 32-year-old had reached 7,993 runs by making 59 in Australia's first innings, and he wasted little time in reaching his early target second time around.

A four off Hasan Ali took Smith through the 8,000 barrier in his 151st Test innings. That saw him beat the previous record of 152 innings to reach 8,000, set by Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakkara.

Australia reached tea on day four on 202-2, with Usman Khawaja unbeaten on 101 and Smith on 12 alongside him.

That gave the tourists a lead of 325 runs and raised the possibility of captain Pat Cummins declaring before the close.

The six Australia batters to reach 8,000 runs before Smith joined the club were Ricky Ponting, Allan Border, Steve Waugh, Michael Clarke, Matthew Hayden and Mark Waugh.

Usman Khawaja's superb series in the country of his birth continued but Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah ensured day one of the decisive Test between Pakistan and Australia ended finely poised.

Draws in the first two Tests set up a winner-take-all contest in Lahore, where the surface appears to have plenty in it for the bowlers to ensure a result this time around.

Shaheen's blistering start suggested as much, as the Pakistan seamer removed David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne in the space of three deliveries to leave Australia reeling on 8-2.

But Khawaja, born in Pakistan, once again excelled with the bat, he and Steve Smith leading the Australia response to help them fight back to reach 232-5 at stumps. Khawaja was denied a second century of the series, as a stunning one-handed catch at slip from Babar Azam saw him out for 91.

Bowlers have consistently had to work hard for wickets in an attritional series but when Shaheen had Warner (7) trapped lbw and Labuschagne edged a poor shot behind to fall for a duck, Pakistan had hope of blitzing their way through a frequently steadfast Australia batting order.

Any such prospect was extinguished by the partnership of Khawaja and Smith (59), the latter recording his third successive half-century as they put on 138 for the third wicket.

But Naseem had Smith trapped in front to end his hopes of converting his fifty into a hundred and Khawaja was then denied three figures by Sajid Khan and the brilliance of Babar.

An excellent length delivery from Naseem removed Travis Head for 26, though Cameron Green and Alex Carey's unbroken partnership of 26 from 42 balls gave Australia reason for hope at the close.

Khawaja shows his class again

After falling three short of a hometown century at Rawalpindi in the opener, Khawaja - having hit a brilliant 160 in the second Test - again fell in the 90s here, but his consistency since returning to Test set-up in January has been remarkable. He has now scored at least 90 in five of his last eight innings.

Smith closing on 8,000

Smith did not review the delivery that ended his innings, but there must have been a great deal of temptation to do so given his dismissal left him just seven runs shy of 8,000 in the longest format.

Australia protected a likely draw in the first Test against Pakistan as the tourists batted out day four in Rawalpindi to close to within 27 runs.

A remarkable collapse from one side or the other is now required on Tuesday to deliver a winner, with the batsmen continuing to dominate in the opener of a three-match series.

Australia resumed 205 back on Pakistan's first innings' 476-4 declared and steadily closed that gap over the course of the day.

Steve Smith spent much of Monday at the crease, albeit he added only 54 more runs to reach 78 from 196 balls.

Indeed, Australia seemed happy to wear out the Pakistan bowlers ahead of a second Test that is likely to have a greater say in the outcome of the series, largely limiting their errors having had eight wickets in hand in their first innings at the start of play.

Marnus Labuschagne (90) put on 108 for the third wicket with Smith but was denied a third Test century against Pakistan by excellent bowling and equally good fielding, caught at slip by Abdullah Shafique off Shaheen Shah Afridi.

Travis Head did not last long in Labuschagne's place, but Cameron Green stuck around and picked up the pace slightly after tea before paying the price for his ambition with a top edge off an attempted sweep to go for 48.

Smith gloved behind attempting a similar shot and Naseem Shah beautifully bowled Alex Carey (19), yet Pakistan's improved bowling late in the day failed to breathe life into the Test.

Green leaves runs out there

Labuschagne was undone by excellent play from Pakistan, but Green really had only himself to blame, getting too much on his shot from a relatively uncomplicated Nauman Ali delivery and giving Iftikhar Ahmed a simple catch.

As the bowlers toiled on a tough pitch, this was an opportunity missed for Green, who with a little more care could have followed his first fifty in his previous Test against England with a first outside of Australia.

Little to separate sides again

Australia have been away from Pakistan for over 23 years, but you would not know it looking at the outcome of this match. Ten of the previous 17 Tests between the sides in Pakistan have ended in draws – and this match will surely make it 11 in 18.

England struck twice late on a rain-affected opening day of the fourth Ashes Test at the SCG to get back into the contest on Wednesday.

Australia finished the first day on 126-3 with Steve Smith (6 not out) and Marnus Labuschagne (4 not out) at the crease after captain Pat Cummins won the delayed coin toss and elected to bat.

The hosts, who lead the series 3-0, had been firmly in control at 111-1 in the final session before veteran Jimmy Anderson (24-1 from 13 overs) and Mark Wood (31-1 from 10 overs) struck to dismiss opener Marcus Harris (38) and Test number one batsman Labuschagne (28) respectively.

Stuart Broad, back in the England side at the expense of Ollie Robinson, claimed the scalp of opener David Warner for 30 caught by Zak Crawley.

The opening session had been stop-start with rain delays seeing Australia go into lunch at 30-0, before adding another 26 runs until Broad found an edge from regular scalp Warner.

Rain fell shortly after Warner's dismissal leading to tea being taken after only 21.4 overs of play, but England got a crucial double strike in the final session before the weather intervened again.

Harris had been patient across more than three hours at the crease until Anderson drew an edge which Joe Root claimed at second slip.

England skipper Root introduced Mark Wood into the attack in the next over and dismissed Labuschagne caught behind by Jos Buttler.

Broad has the wood on Warner

Broad resumed his domination of Warner, dismissing him for the 13th time in Test cricket when he struck in the second session.

The right-arm fast bowler dismissed Warner seven times in the space of 104 balls during the 2019 Ashes in England, yet has been left out for two Tests in this series.

Sydney's rain woes

Only 46.5 overs were bowled on the first day at the SCG, which has been plagued by rain at recent Test matches at the venue.

In fact, Sydney has lost 26 days of Test cricket due to rain since 1877, which is significantly the most of any Australia venue and, while there was play, it was a frustrating opening day.

Australia vice-captain Steve Smith has claimed to be "surprised" at the lack of action afforded to England fast bowler Stuart Broad during the visitors' dire Ashes campaign.

Broad was dropped for the emphatic defeat in Melbourne on Boxing Day that saw Australia retain the urn after just three matches of a one-sided series.

Only two players in English history can better Broad's career record of 120 Test wickets against Australia, and the 35-year-old vented his frustration at his recent lack of influence last weekend, also casting doubt over his Test cricket future.

England's selections have faced fierce scrutiny after Australia racked up an unassailable 3-0 lead, with all-rounder Ben Stokes publicly denying he has any desire to succeed the under-pressure Joe Root as captain.

Speaking at a news conference ahead of the fourth Test in Sydney, Smith said of Broad's absence: "We have been surprised. There have probably been two wickets that would have suited him well [in the first and third Tests, in Brisbane and Melbourne].

"He bowled well in Adelaide, and he's always been a good contest for me. He's got me out a few times, I've scored runs off him. I think it's been a decent battle.

"He and Jimmy [Anderson] are two world-class performers, they have been for a long time. Maybe we'll see them out here together this week, I'm not sure."

Smith, who has averaged 31.75 across the series, has turned his attention to putting in a strong individual performance in the penultimate test, as the hosts target a whitewash victory.

"It's been a little while since I've scored a hundred, but I got close in Adelaide," Smith said.

Smith's 93 runs in Adelaide's second Test was his highest score of the series to date, and the 32-year-old is looking to roll back the clock after averaging over 100 in each of the past two Ashes series, earning a reputation as England's tormentor. 

"We've played on some pretty bowler-friendly wickets in the first three Tests, and it's been tough to get into a rhythm," he noted.

"But hopefully this week I can spend a lot of time out there, get a big one and help us continue to have success."

Steve Smith felt Mitchell Starc bowled "as well as he has for a long time" after Australia cruised to a 275-run victory over England in the second Ashes Test to take a 2-0 series lead.

The hosts posted a mammoth first-innings declaration total of 473-9 at the Adelaide Oval after Smith had stepped up as stand-in captain, following new Test skipper Pat Cummins coming into close contact with a positive COVID-19 case last Wednesday.

England could only muster 236 in response, despite 80 and 62 from Dawid Malan and captain Joe Root respectively, with Starc taking 4-37 from his 16 overs – only Nathan Lyon went at a lower economy (2.07).

Australia were again able to declare in the second innings, setting England an improbable 468 to win, before tearing through the tourists to leave six wickets required for victory on the final day.

Jos Buttler battled hard during a 207-ball stint but fell in unusual circumstances as he trod on his stumps going back to Starc, before Jhye Richardson fittingly sealed victory to complete his maiden five-wicket Test haul by removing James Anderson.

While Richardson managed a final-innings 5-42, Smith reserved special praise for Starc – who boasted 7-80 after two wickets in the second innings.

"Mitchell Starc bowled as well as he has for a long time, he led this attack well," Smith told reporters at the post-match presentation.

"He summed it up quickly that there wasn't a great deal of swing so he just wanted to bash a good length and hit some good areas - he did that as well as he has in his career.

"He looked in really good rhythm and I'm incredibly proud of the way he went about his business."

Australia have now won each of their last nine pink-ball Test matches, the only side with a perfect 100 per cent winning record, while England are winless in their last four day-night fixtures since last defeating West Indies in August 2017.

Smith, who fell seven short of a century in the first innings, was captaining for the first time since the 2018 ball-tampering scandal in Newlands and enjoyed his return to the helm, while hailing the performance of some England batters.

He added: "We weren't nervous. They showed some good resistance and fight. Jos played extremely well - it was an innings we haven't seen from him before, he's usually a bit of a dasher. He showed good fight, as well as [Chris] Woakes and [Ollie] Robinson.

"We felt there was time left and all it would take was a couple of good balls.

"I had fun this week as captain and did enjoy it. The guys played really well. We were able to control the game from the first day as Marnus [Labuschagne] and Davey [Warner] set it up with their partnership.

"So we were able to declare when we wanted and bowl where we wanted to bowl."

England's hopes of levelling the Ashes in the second Test appear to be all but over after Australia's stand-in captain Steve Smith declared at 473-9 on Friday.

Australia were sitting pretty at 221-2 at the end of day one in Adelaide and picked up where they left off, with Smith and a wagging tail cashing in as the tourists flagged.

England subsequently went into bat after a mammoth 150 overs in the field, looking exhausted and embarrassed as they begrudgingly attempted to chip away at a surely unassailable total, losing both openers cheaply to reach 17-2 at stumps.

Australia did not have it all their own way, though.

Marnus Labuschagne (103) raised his bat with a boundary early on to seal his first Ashes century, but the wickets did soon fall.

Ollie Robinson trapped Labuschagne lbw before Joe Root (1-72) and Ben Stokes (3-113) sent Travis Head (18) and Cameron Green (2) back to the pavilion. Australia were 303-5 at lunch, giving England reason for optimism.

However, Smith (93) – skippering in the absence of Pat Cummins – kept plugging away until he was eventually halted by James Anderson just short of his century. The same England bowler then took the wicket of Alex Carey (51) in his next over.

Yet the final hour or so of Australia's innings proved brutal as their tail swung into action. Mitchell Starc hit 39 not out from as many balls and Michael Neser reached 35 off 24, giving the hosts a real injection towards the end.

Smith's declaration was timed to minimise the length of England's break after a gruelling fielding session, and the tourists lost Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed in the first seven overs.

Play was abandoned due to a looming electrical storm, the rain presumably a welcome arrival for Joe Root's men.

Robinson makes Australia work

While the second Test has largely been tricky for England thus far, Robinson certainly showed some class with the ball as he recorded figures of 1-45, somewhat miserly compared to the rest of the England attack.

Every other England bowler afforded Australia more runs despite only Anderson presiding over more than Robinson's 27 overs, with Chris Woakes and Stokes each conceding over 100 runs.

Smith tides the hosts over

After the excellent early work of David Warner (95) and Labuschagne on Thursday, things could have fallen apart on day two, but Smith ensured the boat was not rocked.

His 93 off 201 deliveries was steady and patient, precisely what Australia needed. While Head and Green did not have quite the same impact, Smith's showing at least allowed the likes of Carey, Starc and Neser to go into bat with a little less pressure, and they certainly made the most of that.

Marnus Labuschagne stood unbeaten on 95 and David Warner fell just short of a century as Australia battled to 221-2 on the first day of the second Test in Adelaide.

Steve Smith captained Australia for the first time since the ball-tampering scandal in 2018, after new skipper Pat Cummins was forced to isolate following close contact with a COVID-19 case in a restaurant.

Smith opted to bat first on Thursday and lost opener Marcus Harris for three to Stuart Broad in the bowler's 150th Test, as Jos Buttler produced a fantastic diving catch down the leg side. Harris had earlier overturned an lbw decision.

Warner closed shop in response against Broad and James Anderson's early dominance with the pink ball, managing just one run from his opening 35 deliveries, with Labuschagne following in a similarly attritional fashion.

Labuschagne was relieved when he was dropped by Buttler on 21 off Stokes, and capitalised as he battled to his second fifty of the series in 156 deliveries, after Warner had brought up a 108-ball half-century – the pair sharing their sixth century stand in Tests.

Left-handed opener Warner then fell in the 90s for the second consecutive Test when Broad gratefully collected a catch at cover, with Stokes' aggressive short-pitched bowling finally paying off. Warner was dismissed for 95 and the partnership ended at 172.

Buttler shelled a regulation catch from Anderson in the final hour with Labuschagne on 95, before Australia's number three and stand-in captain Smith made it to stumps unbeaten after a testing period against the new ball under the lights.

Landmark Labuschagne delivers once more

Labuschagne crafted an excellent first-innings 74 at the Gabba and followed that up with more calculated brilliance against England's five-man seam attack on a flat Adelaide Oval pitch in almost perfect batting conditions.

The right-hander, who has faced 275 balls so far, also made it to 2,000 Test runs in his 34th innings, with only four players – Michael Hussey, Herbert Sutcliffe, George Headley and Don Bradman – requiring fewer outings to reach the landmark.

Spin it to win it?

The surface in Adelaide has already shown signs of turn and bounce, much to the frustration of England, who dropped Jack Leach as the tourists went without a spinner for the first time in an Ashes Test since Headingley in 2001.

That run dates back further to 1998 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the last time England played without a spinner Down Under, and captain Joe Root, tasked with operating as the frontline spinner, struggled as he recorded figures of 0-37 from his 11 overs.

Australian captain Pat Cummins has sensationally been ruled out of the second Ashes Test against England, deemed a close contact of a person who received a positive COVID-19 test.

The news comes on the morning of the first day of the pink-ball Test at Adelaide Oval, with Queensland fast bowler Michael Neser confirmed to replace Cummins in the XI for his debut on Thursday.

Former skipper Steve Smith will captain Australia in the absence of Cummins in the day-night Test in Adelaide.

Cummins was dining at a restaurant on Tuesday and was sat nearby to someone who has since been confirmed as a positive coronavirus case.

The star paceman did not breach any biosecurity protocols and isolated as soon as he became aware of the situation. Cummins has since had a PCR test, which produced a negative result.

However, Cummins has been confirmed as a close contact by South Australia Health and will be required to isolate for seven days, ruling him out of the second showdown with rivals England.

Cricket Australia (CA) said it anticipated Cummins will be available to play in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG in Melbourne.

"Cummins is understandably very disappointed not to be able to captain Australia for the day-night Test in Adelaide," CA said in a statement.

The 28-year-old fast bowler had led Australia to a nine-wicket victory in the Ashes opener as skipper in Brisbane, after taking over from Tim Paine.

Smith's deputising marks the first time he will have captained his country since the controversial 2018 sandpaper-gate Test match in Cape Town, which led to his dismissal as skipper and 12-month suspension.

Australia may have dodged a further bullet, revealing Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon were also dining at the same restaurant but at a separate table outdoors.

Both have been deemed casual contacts by SA Health and are free to play.

Australia will be expected to ensure normal service is resumed in the heat of an Ashes battle at the Gabba when they start a new era on Wednesday.

The Tim Paine sexting scandal presented Pat Cummins with the opportunity to become the first fast bowler to captain the Australia Test side.

Cummins was appointed less than a fortnight before his side start their defence of the urn against fierce rivals England, with Steve Smith his assistant as Paine takes an indefinite mental health break from cricket. 

The paceman has long since been talked of as a potential successor to Paine and gets his chance earlier than expected.

Cummins was already on a high from playing his part in Australia's maiden T20 World Cup triumph in Dubai last month and should thrive on the extra responsibility of being skipper.

Australia have not played a Test since they were consigned to a 2-1 home defeat to India in January and although England have had plenty of action in the longest format this year, poor weather in Brisbane has badly hampered their preparations.

Stats Perform picks out some of the storylines, sprinkled with some Opta data, from an Australia perspective before one of the great sporting rivalries gets under way again.

 

Cummins to get Australia going?

Cummins has led Australia's pace attack on many occasions and was the pick of the bowlers in a 2-2 Ashes series draw in England two years ago, taking 29 wickets at average of 19.62.

Since the start of 2018, no bowler has claimed more scalps in the longest format than the 28-year-old's 128 - which have come at 19.9 apiece.

Cummins, the number one Test bowler in the world, will no doubt be licking his lips at the prospect of ripping into what has been a fragile England batting line-up.

Josh Hazlewood will also pose a huge threat and Mitchell Starc will be out to silence critics such as Shane Warne, while Jhye Richardson and Michael Neser show Australia's strength in depth in the pace ranks.

 

Gabba no longer a fortress?

Australia had not lost a Test at the Gabba for 33 years until India's famous victory in January.

Joe Root fanned the flames last month by stating the hostile Brisbane venue is no longer such a "stronghold" for Australia.

It has most certainly not been a happy hunting ground for England, who have only won four of 21 Tests at the stage for the curtain-raiser for the series. The tourists' last Test win at the Gabba came in November 1986.

England have not won a Test in Australia since January 2011, losing nine and drawing one of their previous 10 contests, and they will be braced for a barrage of pace when they start their quest to regain the urn this week.

 

England must find an answer to Smith and Labuschagne 

The England bowlers had seen more than enough of Smith by the end of the 2019 series.

He racked up 774 runs at an average of 110.57 from seven innings, reaching three figures on three occasions and scoring a sublime 211 at Old Trafford.

The former skipper broke his own record for number of runs in a Test series in the 21st century. Only the great Don Bradman (19) and Jack Hobbs (12) have more Ashes centuries than Smith's 11.

Marnus Labuschagne was also outstanding in England two years ago, averaging 50.42. He has been a revelation at number three and will have a big role to play.

 

Australia in safe hands with Carey?

Alex Carey will take the gloves and make his Test debut at the Gabba in the absence of Paine.

Carey has plenty of experience at the age of 30 and has 83 international white-ball experiences under his belt.

He comes into his Test bow on the back of making a timely century for South Australia against Queensland in the Sheffield Shield and has a chance to cement his spot in the side.

Pat Cummins will skipper Australia in the upcoming Ashes against rivals England after being confirmed as the country's new Test captain.

Cummins is the first fast bowler to captain Australia's men's Test team on a full-time basis after Tim Paine sensationally stood down last week, having been embroiled in a sexting scandal.

Paine had taken over as Australia skipper from Steve Smith in the wake of the sandpaper scandal during the South Africa Test tour in 2018 but he is now set to miss the Ashes altogether after taking a leave of absence from all forms of cricket for the foreseeable future".

The top-ranked bowler in Test cricket, Cummins will have Smith as his vice-captain as Australia turn their attention to the December 8 Ashes opener in Brisbane.

"I am honoured to accept this role ahead of what will be a massive Ashes summer," Cummins said in a statement on Friday.

"I hope I can provide the same leadership Tim [Paine] has given the group in the past few years.

"With Steve and I as captains, a number of very senior players in this squad and some great young talent coming through we are a strong and tightly knit group.

"This is an unexpected privilege which I am very grateful for and am very much looking forward to."

Australia star Smith returns to the leadership group after he served a two-year ban from holding any leadership role in Australian cricket following the ball-tampering saga three years ago.

Smith was hit with a 12-month suspension for his role in the scandal.

"I am pleased to return to the leadership of the team and look forward to helping and assisting Pat in any way I can," Smith said in a statement as Australia prepare to host England, starting at the Gabba next month.

"Pat and I have played together for a long time, so we know our respective styles well.

"We are also great friends, as is the whole group. As a team, we want to play good, positive cricket and also really enjoy each other's company.

"There are exciting times ahead as we focus on the Ashes and beyond."

Aaron Finch claims there has been no talk in the Australia camp of securing an elusive T20 World Cup title ahead of the final against New Zealand on Sunday.

Australia have never been crowned world champions in the shortest format, losing to England in their only other final back in 2010.

The Black Caps stand in the way of Finch's side and a historic maiden title at the Dubai International Stadium after both sides pulled off brilliant semi-final run chases.

Australia beat Pakistan by five wickets and New Zealand defeated England by the same margin to set up an eagerly awaited trans-Tasman showdown.

Captain Finch revealed there have been no discussions between the players of Australia finally getting their hands on the trophy.

The opening batter said: "We haven't actually spoken about it as yet. We are just committed to turning up and playing some really aggressive and good cricket. 

"We understand that T20 cricket can be fickle in its nature at certain periods of time and you have to embrace the challenges of it, whether it's a final or whether it's a one-off game in any kind of series, I think they all mean a lot. We are just excited to get under way.

"I think the New Zealand side, they have got a huge amount of quality and they have shown that over a long period of time now. I think they have been the best powerplay performing team with the ball in this tournament, so that's going to be a challenge. 

"They have got obviously Daryl Mitchell, who played a great knock in the last game against England. Martin Guptill, class and power. And then you've got Kane Williamson, who is all class as well as a top three.

"They have got match-winners right throughout their innings, and with the bat and ball, Ish Sodhi and Mitch Santner have showed their class in the past as well. It's a game between two sides that are really similarly matched I think, and yes, it will be a great game."

 

Finch says he has no concerns about the former of Steve Smith, who only made five against Pakistan after being dismissed for only one in his previous knock in a loss to England.

 "No, not concerned one bit about his form," he said. "He's a world-class player and he's someone in big games has showed how valuable he is. He's been hitting the ball as well as I've seen for a long time, so no, no concerns there whatsoever."

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]."

Steve Smith, David Warner, Glenn Maxwell and Pat Cummins are the big names who will return to the Australia set up for the T20 World Cup.

The four stars did not feature in Australia's recent tours of the West Indies and Bangladesh. Aaron Finch's team suffered a 4-1 defeat in the latter series, while they also lost the T20 series to the Windies.

However, Australia's white-ball captain will be able to call on big hitters Smith, Warner and Maxwell, as well as paceman Cummins, for the World Cup, which takes place in the United Arab Emirates and Oman in October and November.

They are joined by Josh Inglis, who has been rewarded for his outstanding form with a first international call-up.

The wicketkeeper-batsman has had a brilliant domestic season in both Australia and England, having been the leading run scorer in county cricket's T20 competition, and takes his place in the 15-man squad.

"Josh has been on our radar for some time with his performances in white ball cricket and more recently in the Vitality Blast where he topped the run charts," selection chair George Bailey said.

"He offers the squad flexibility in the batting order with his adaptability, counterattacking ability and power striking. He is a player we are excited about for the future."

Alex Carey is the biggest name to miss out at Inglis' expense, with Matthew Wade the first-choice wicketkeeper.

Nathan Ellis, Dan Christian and Daniel Sams have been named as travelling reserves.

Australia's T20 World Cup squad: 

Aaron Finch (c), Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins (vc), Josh Hazlewood, Josh Inglis, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Adam Zampa. Travelling reserves: Dan Christian, Nathan Ellis, Daniel Sams.

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