Hobart will stage an Ashes Test for the first time after Blundstone Arena was confirmed as the venue for next month's series finale between Australia and England.

The fifth and final Ashes showdown was meant to be held in Perth from January 14-18 before it was relocated due to Western Australia's border restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Melbourne – the scene for the Boxing Day Test – and Sydney, which will host the fourth Test, were in the mix to stage further matches this series.

However, Ashes cricket will come to Hobart via a day-night Test – the second pink-ball fixture of the 2021-22 series following Adelaide, starting December 16.

"We considered a range of factors, including commercial, logistical and operational considerations," Cricket Australia (CA) CEO Nick Hockley said on Saturday.

"On the balance of these the CA board agreed on Blundstone Arena being the most appropriate venue to host the fifth Vodafone Men's Ashes Test match.

"We also acknowledge the postponement of the Australia and Afghanistan Test due to be played in Hobart earlier in the year played a part in the decision."

Hobart was due to host last month's Australia-Afghanistan Test before it was cancelled.

The upcoming clash will be the first Test match in Tasmania's capital city since Australia were thrashed by South Africa in November 2016.

Cricket Tasmania CEO Dominic Baker added: "This is a great day not just for Tasmanian cricket, but for Tasmania in general.

"This will be without a doubt the biggest sporting event Tasmania has ever hosted.

"While the circumstances that have led us to be able to have the opportunity to host this Test are undoubtedly unique, we are thrilled that Tasmanians will have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness an Ashes Test in their own backyard."

Dawid Malan admitted he thought he "may never play another Test again" after the left-hander combined with Joe Root to frustrate Australia in Brisbane.

England were skittled for 147 on the opening day of the Ashes and problems were compounded when Travis Head's 152 guided Australia to 425, the hosts boasting a 278-run first-innings lead.

When Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed were dismissed with just 61 on the board in response, Root's side were teetering once more on day three before the vital partnership between the England captain and Malan.

The pair dug deep to record an unbeaten 159-run partnership, with Malan six behind his skipper, who reached the close of play on 86 not out as England reduced Australia's lead to 58.

Malan, who flourished in Perth during the last Ashes trip before losing his place due to a lack of form, is relishing the somewhat unexpected opportunity of facing Australia once again. 

"I thought I'd never play another Test again," he told reporters. "I actually said to Rooty when we were on 40 or 50 and the Barmy Army were singing, 'I've really missed this'."

"I've missed having someone trying to blow my head off all the time, the crowd going and the adrenaline going, playing against the best bowlers going around. Test cricket is the pinnacle.

"To be able to stand out here in an England shirt. I'm so proud to do that. Especially to do it here at The Gabba in front of everyone. It's just really good fun.

"You can do as well as you want in Twenty20 or 50-over cricket, but you're judged a lot by your Test career at the end of it. For us, an Ashes series is the biggest series of our calendar so to come here and get runs against this really good attack is very satisfying."

Root, who has amassed 1,541 runs in a prolific 2021, moved past former England captain Michael Vaughan (1,481 in 2002) for the most runs in a calendar year for his country in Test cricket.

While hailing the work of his skipper – who is closing in on a maiden century in Australia – Malan appreciated England are still in a difficult position.

"The job isn't done yet, just getting an 80 doesn't mean you've made it, it's about scoring the big hundred that will change the game," he added.

"They are so brilliant at closing that door on us. We need one more good 100-run partnership to put a score on the board and then who knows what can happen? To come in after a day and a half of hard fielding and do what we did here was fantastic, but that’s only half the job.

"Joe's record obviously speaks for itself, with what he's done in his career. Batting with him is great because he takes the pressure off you, always looks to score and seems to find a way of putting the pressure back on the bowlers. 

"It's a great sign for us as a team that Joe is playing so well and leading from the front."

Australia still hold a "great advantage" in the first Ashes Test despite England's batting rearguard on day three at the Gabba, says Travis Head.

Head (152) passed 150 for the second time in his Test career on Friday, as Australia took a lead of 278 runs after scoring 425 from their first innings.

He had a batting strike rate of 102.7 in his innings – the second-best by any player to score 100+ runs in a men's Test innings at the Gabba, after Joe Burns (129 runs, 104.9 SR v New Zealand) in November 2015.

Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc dismissed Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed respectively to leave England on 61-2, but Joe Root and Dawid Malan led the fightback for the tourists.

Root, who has now scored 1,541 runs in 2021 (the most an England captain has managed in a calendar year), reached stumps on 86 not out, while Malan will resume on 80.

While having had joy with the new ball, Australia struggled to unsettle Root and Malan as the day wore on and batting conditions improved.

Head, however, is still confident the game is in Australia's hands, though he emphasised the importance of a strong start on day four, with England trailing by 58 runs.

"Having seen with the new ball, both last night and in our innings, we've seen it challenging the bat," he told BT Sport. 

"That's going to be the key tomorrow morning is hopefully getting a wicket in those first 10 overs then we get the new ball again, it's going to be key for us.

"If we can hopefully get one or two [wickets] in those 10 overs, hold onto those runs, each one's going to be gold. If we can have five or six wickets at evens we're right in it and still driving that game.

"I think we created opportunities throughout the day. No surprise in the way [Root and Malan] came back out and applied themselves, two quality batsman that have put themselves in a position of fighting back.

"We still hold a great advantage, 60 runs with the new ball round the corner. Still positive and it's going to be a positive morning."

England captain Joe Root and Dawid Malan mounted a fine rearguard to help England get back into the first Ashes Test against Australia with an unbroken 159-run third-wicket partnership.

The tourists reached 220-2 at stumps on day three at the Gabba, trailing by only 58 runs, with Root 86 not out and Malan 80 no.

Australia had added 82 to their overnight score – led by Travis Head, who passed 150 for the second time in his Test career – before being bowled out for 425, with a 278-run lead.

England appeared well behind in the game at 61-2 when Mitchell Starc had Haseeb Hameed (27) caught behind by Alex Carey.

But Root and Malan combined for an excellent partnership, as batting conditions improved on a bright day in Brisbane where only five wickets fell.

Australia had resumed on 343-7, with Head and Starc continuing their 85-run eighth-wicket stand well into the first session before the latter fell for 35. Mark Wood then claimed the final two wickets – including Head with a yorker for 152 – to finish with 85-3.

In response, England opener Burns, who was clean bowled with the first ball of the series, almost fell for a pair when umpire Paul Reiffel gave him out lbw from Starc.

Burns successfully had the decision overturned, with the early bounce taking it over, but did not capitalise on the reprieve for long, caught behind by Carey as Australia skipper Pat Cummins deceived him for 13.

Hameed had played well before he tickled a Starc delivery down leg through to Carey to fall for 27.

However, Root and Malan responded with a gritty stand. The England skipper was clinical off his pads, hitting 10 boundaries, while Malan was excellent square of the wicket, also finding the rope on 10 occasions.

Record for Root

Root's attempt to play at the final ball of the day from Cameron Green almost undid his hard work, but the England captain remains well poised for a 24th Test century and fourth Ashes hundred after being dismissed for a duck in the first innings.

Six of Root's tons have come in 2021 alone, and this knock has now taken him clear of Michael Vaughan (1,481 in 2002) with the most England Test runs in a calendar year (1,541).

Aussie bowling concerns

The first session on day four will be critical for both sides, with only 10 overs left until Australia take the new ball, desperate to get more wickets before England take the lead.

Josh Hazlewood did not bowl in the final session on day three, only getting through eight overs in the second innings in a slight concern for the hosts, while spinner Nathan Lyon has struggled, failing to take a wicket so far in the match.

Travis Head said he is "still pinching" himself after his maiden Ashes century furthered Australia's control in their opening Test against England.

Head, whose position was seemingly in doubt heading into the series, raced to the third-fastest century in an Ashes innings, reaching the landmark in just 85 balls as he took a particular liking to Jack Leach.

The 27-year-old added to his total for an unbeaten 112 at the close of play in Brisbane, with Australia boasting a 196-run lead after England were skittled for 147 in their first innings.

After the end of day two at the Gabba, Head expressed his disbelief at his performance as also credited the work of new Test captain Pat Cummins and Australia's coaching team.

"I'm still pinching myself," Head said post-match. "It's the sort of thing where I can't quite work out what transpired in the last couple hours, but I want to contribute to Australia and Australia wins. 

"Hopefully, we've put ourselves in a nice position. [Thursday] morning is important to continue another great day for Australia and that's what I'm here to do. 

"I was really relaxed throughout the game. Patty and the coaching staff have been fantastic in the way they've handled the last six or seven days and how they've wanted to see me play. 

"They'll go about it and just want to see me be myself and play the game and play how I see it. They've got great confidence in that. 

"I was relaxed over the last two days and I said that going into the camp, it's so enjoyable to be around this group again and contribute in some little way."

Head's bludgeoning that compounded England's misery was earlier set up by David Warner, who managed 94 after multiple missed chances by the tourists, and Marnus Labuschagne crafting 72 to stunt the charge of Joe Root's bowlers.

Indeed, only four men have recorded faster centuries for Australia in men's Test cricket than Head, but the Adelaide-born batter praised the work that went before him in grinding down the likes of Mark Wood, Chris Woakes and Ollie Robinson.

"Today it went my way, but a lot of work was done by the top order and I thought they batted exceptionally well," he added.

"I think both camps would have been talking about that [grinding the opposition down] for the last 10 days and what they want to try to achieve. 

"We spoke about that as a batting group going into this Test in Australia. We said our biggest goal is trying to keep them out in the field. 

"It was extremely hot over the last two days, there are some difficult conditions. There's no doubt that both camps would like to do that as they bat. 

"[England] are going to try and do that in the second innings when they play as well. We've not really talked about it, we'll talk about it in the morning, but I think it's pretty obvious that what we would like to do is continue to bat well for as long as possible and get ourselves in a great position."

England fast bowling coach Jon Lewis defended the tourists' selection for the first Ashes Test and says Ben Stokes' fitness will be assessed ahead of day three at the Gabba.

Australia are in command of the series-opener in Brisbane after closing on 343-7 in reply to England's 147 all out, leading by 196 runs.

Travis Head (112 not out) smashed the third-fastest Ashes century off only 85 balls after David Warner made 94 and Marnus Labuschagne crafted 74 on day two.

Ollie Robinson was the pick of the England bowlers, taking 3-48, but had to leave the field with a hamstring injury, although the paceman later revealed he had not done serious damage.

Stokes also sustained a knee injury on a tough day for Joe Root's side in the heat, with spinner Jack Leach's 11 overs going for 95.

But Lewis says the selectors did not feel they ought to have played an extra seamer.

"We looked at the pitch on the day before the game and the morning of the game and decided to go with the make-up of the team that we have," he told reporters.

"That's what we felt was the right decision at the time, and I think if we'd have all bowled to the best of our ability, we would have put Australia under a bit more pressure than we did today.

"We still took several Australian wickets. We are a bit behind in the game; however, like I said to the lads before, I know the guys will come back fighting in the next few days."

Lewis was unable to shed any light on the extent of the damage Stokes has done.

Asked about the all-rounder's injury, he replied: "I don't know, I don't assess players, I'm not part of the medical team. We'll see how he pulls up in the morning."

Stokes bowled Warner for 17, but the opener was reprieved as England's vice-captain had over-stepped.

Warner was also dropped by Rory Burns on 48 and should have been run out when he had 60 to his name on a bad day for the tourists in the field.

David Warner lauded Travis Head and Australia's other batters after they dominated England on day two of the opening Ashes Test.

England were dismissed for only 147 on day one, and Australia put themselves into a commanding 196-run lead on Thursday.

Head (112 not out) scored the third-fastest Ashes century - reaching three figures off only 85 balls - to take Pat Cummins' team onto 343-7 at stumps in Brisbane.

Warner made an impressive 94 after being given a few lives, putting on 156 for the second wicket with Marnus Labuschagne (74) to put Australia in a strong position.

Labuschagne has now scored four half-centuries from five Test innings at the Gabba, with Warner having struck over 50 as an opener for a sixth time at the venue, with only Mark Taylor (eight) doing so on more occasions.

Speaking to Fox Sports, Warner said: "They did bowl well, didn't they? They were relentless.

"What an entertaining innings by Travis Head. We've got smiles on our faces. It's got to be up there for him personally. It was a tight battle with him and Uzzie [Usman Khawaja] but to come out the way he did... that's the Travis Head we know."

Warner's first near-miss came early on, when Ben Stokes bowled him but the all-rounder over-stepped.

"Obviously getting bowled off a no-ball - you've got to try and keep your feet behind the line as a bowler," Warner added.

"I thought I left very well. Everyone was talking about my form in the T20 stuff but when you're out of runs you deserve some luck."

Ollie Robinson was the pick of England's bowlers with 3-48, and the paceman felt his eventual dismissal of Warner had been a long time coming.

"I sort of felt like I was going to get him out every over to be honest," Robinson told Fox Sports.

"He left well in periods but I think he played at a lot of balls he could have left. So hopefully throughout the series I can get his number a bit earlier."

Reflecting on chances going down in the field, with Rory Burns' routine drop from a Warner edge a particular low point, Robinson added: "We did miss opportunities early on but on another day we could have had three or four early.

"It came out well. It felt like I was consistent and had a lot of play and misses. The closest thing we have [to the Gabba] is Headingley. It's nice to get that bit of extra bounce as a tall guy."

Robinson did pull up with an apparent hamstring issue, but revealed it was only a minor problem.

"It's okay," he said. "I came off for a bit of strapping, bit of maintenance but it's alright, rest up tonight and go again tomorrow."

Travis Head hit his first Ashes century as Australia reached 343-7 to take control of the first Test in Brisbane.

Head's place in Australia's line-up was under some scrutiny heading into the series, but the decision to give him the nod over Usman Khawaja paid off emphatically and he is still in place on 112 not out heading into day three.

His century came after David Warner fell just short of a ton, striking 94 before falling to Ollie Robinson, the pick of England's bowlers with 3-48.

A blow to the underside of Head's chin from an errant Mark Wood delivery could not even dampen Australia's mood.

England were desperate for a fast start after a nightmare opening day at the Gabba, where the tourists were skittled for 147.

Joe Root's men got what they wanted – Ashes debutant Robinson making the early breakthrough when he had Marcus Harris (3) caught at slip.

Ben Stokes knocked over Warner for 17 but he was afforded a reprieve with a no-ball call, while Marnus Labuschagne's edge fell agonisingly short of Root.

Warner was granted two more lives following lunch – Rory Burns dropping a routine catch on 49, while the opener was stranded outside his crease on 60 – but Jack Leach's dismissal of Labuschagne sparked England.

Four wickets in the space of eight overs followed. Warner, Cameron Green (0) and Steve Smith (12) all sent to the pavilion as Robinson just missed out on a hat-trick.

Despite the wickets of Alex Carey (12) and captain Pat Cummins (12), England – walking wounded with Stokes struggling and most of their attacking fading in the sun – were unable to maintain their charge.

Head surpassed his century with a sublime on-drive from Chris Woakes and though Wood's beamer did deliver a blow to the batsman's jaw, his efforts moving Australia into a 196-run lead.

Head stars as team-mates set the stage

Head could well have put this game out of England's reach. His innings so far has included 12 boundaries and two sixes. Only four players have scored a faster hundred for Australia in a men's Test innings (Adam Gilchrist, Jack Gregory, Warner, Matthew Hayden).

While they did not have centuries to show for their efforts, Warner and Labuschagne enjoyed stellar days. Warner posted his sixth 50-plus score as an opening batsman at the Gabba, equalling Bill Lawry for the second most at the ground in the format as an opener – only Mark Taylor (eight) has more. Labuschagne, meanwhile, recorded his fourth 50-plus score in five career innings at the Gabba.

No-ball embarrassment

Umpiring and technology were in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons after Stokes' early spell. Having been denied the wicket of Warner due to a no-ball, analysis of his spell showed the England star had overstepped 14 times with only two no-balls called. The reason? The technology had failed, leaving the umpires to make the calls.

As for Stokes, he finished with disappointing figures of 0-50 from nine overs, suffering a knee injury in the field to further compound a so-far frustrating return.

Mitchell Starc was surprised to see both James Anderson and Stuart Broad left out as England were skittled for 147 on the opening day of the Ashes.

Starc, whose selection for Australia came under some scrutiny, dismissed Rory Burns with the very first ball of the series at the Gabba on Wednesday, setting the tone for a dismal day for the tourists.

New captain Pat Cummins took 5-38 as Australia dominated, with bad light and rain preventing the hosts from starting their chase after tea.

On a green pitch in overcast conditions, Australia's bowling attack thrived, and it seemed the ideal situation in which Broad and Anderson, who have played 315 Tests between them, would have been at their best.

However, neither bowler was selected in the team for the first Test, so the tourists went into the match without pace bowlers who have collected a combined 1,156 Test wickets.

"I'm not sure if you told anyone a couple of days ago that was going to happen that they would have believed you," Starc, who finished with figures of 2-35, told reporters.

"To take 300 Test matches and 1,000 wickets out of their side is pretty interesting.

"I'm glad I don't have to pick any sides, let alone that one, or tap those two on the shoulder and let them know they're not playing."

Starc's comments might have rubbed salt into Joe Root's wounds - the England captain having elected to bat after winning the toss.

Ollie Pope was one of just two batsmen to make it above 30, along with Jos Buttler, and while conceding the odds are already stacked against England, he believes all is not lost.

"It was a disappointing start especially, so there was frustration that we haven't been able to put on the big score we wanted," Pope told a news conference.

"The pitch did offer a fair bit early, especially off the seam so we are frustrated as a unit. It's a long tour, a long series and we're going to keep the spirits high and come out fighting tomorrow.

"Looking at the wicket, it did offer today and wasn't the easiest to score on. You don't know with wickets until both teams have batted on them. I think this pitch gets quicker and keeps carrying.

"It was quite tacky so it made some dents in the middle of the wicket. It'll be interesting if that opens up. We've definitely got the skill set in our bowlers to drag it back and go big second dig."

Pat Cummins reflected on a "pretty crazy" first day as Australia's Test captain after his side dismantled England at the Gabba to start the Ashes in style.

Mitchell Starc bowled Rory Burns with the very first ball in Brisbane on Wednesday and the hosts went on to skittle England out for just 147 before rain and bad light stopped play.

Cummins, who replaced Tim Paine as captain following the wicketkeeper's resignation last month in the wake of a lewd texting scandal, led the way for Australia, taking 5-38.

The 28-year-old became the second pace bowler to take five wickets in a men's Test innings as captain of Australia, after George Giffen (three occasions in December 1894, February 1895 and January 1895), and has taken 133 wickets in the longest format since the start of 2018, more than any other player.

England skipper Joe Root won the toss and chose to bat on a green pitch in Queensland, and though Cummins acknowledged he would likely have made the same decision, he had no regrets over losing the coin flip as he looked back on a wonderful day for Australia.

"Pretty crazy... it's all gone to plan so far," Cummins told BT Sport.

"Really proud of all the guys. I was probably going to have a bat. I genuinely wasn't upset and we made the most of it.

"[The pitch] is a little bit soft. You're always in the game on the morning of day one. It got a little bit quicker after lunch but the ball got a little bit softer. It's a pretty standard Gabba wicket."

Asked to comment on his five-for, Cummins added: "The body felt decent. I've bowled better before and haven't got as many rewards. I kept it tight and got the ball up there."

Starc's 2-35 and Josh Hazlewood's 2-42 were added to by a first Test wicket for Cameron Green (1-6) as England were cast aside with ease - only four of the tourists' side making it into double figures.

The selection of opening bowler Starc had come under some scrutiny, but he responded in perfect fashion when his first delivery crashed into Burns' leg stump.

It is only the second time in Ashes history that a batsman has been dismissed with the first ball of the first Test.

"Really happy for him, he really held the attack together," Cummins said of Starc.

Pat Cummins made a blistering start to his Australia captaincy, spearheading a day of destruction with a five-for as England were skittled out for 147 on day one of the opening Ashes Test.

Cummins – who replaced Tim Paine as skipper after stepping down and ultimately taking a break from cricket following a lewd texting scandal – ushered in a new era with a five-wicket haul for just 38 runs before rain and bad light scuppered play at the Gabba on Wednesday.

England won the toss and opted to bat first on a green wicket in Brisbane but it was a horror day for Joe Root's tourists.

Mitchell Starc (2-35) knocked over Roy Burns' leg stump with the first ball of the series and things quickly turned sour, much to the delight of the local crowd.

Root's nightmare was realised when he was sent back to the pavilion for a duck by Josh Hazlewood (2-42) as England found themselves 11-3 after Dawid Malan (6) also succumbed to the Australian quick.

Australia continued to put England to the sword as Cummins claimed the scalp of star Ben Stokes (5), leaving England 29-4 through just 12.4 overs.

Haseeb Hameed (25) tried his best to steer the sinking ship, but Australia continued where they left off post-lunch – Cummins dismissing the opener with vice-captain Steve Smith on hand to collect the catch.

Ollie Pope (35) and Jos Buttler (39) guided England past 100 before Starc broke the partnership, Buttler edging through to debutant wicketkeeper Alex Carey for the second of his three catches.

Australia wrapped up the innings early in the afternoon as Cameron Green (1-6) celebrated his first Test wicket by removing Pope before Ollie Robinson (0), Mark Wood (8) and Chris Woakes (21) fell victim to Cummins, with the weather preventing the hosts from beginning their run chase.

 

Cummins joins exclusive club

It was a memorable day for Cummins, who became the second pace bowler to take five wickets in a Test innings as captain of Australia after George Griffin (three occasions in December 1894, February 1895 and January 1895). Cummins has taken 133 wickets in Test cricket since the start of 2018 – the most of any bowler in that time.

Starc silences critics

After avoiding the axe for the two opening Ashes Tests, Starc had the perfect response for his doubters with a first-ball wicket. It was just the second time in Ashes history a batter has been dismissed off the opening delivery of a series, while it was the 13th time Starc has claimed a wicket in the first over of a Test since 2014.

Jonny Bairstow has been left out of England's 12-man squad for the first Ashes Test against Australia.

The 32-year-old, who is on his third Ashes tour, struggled during last weekend's warm-up against England Lions and has lost his place in the side.

Ollie Pope is instead preferred to Bairstow in the middle order for the match at the Gabba in Brisbane, which begins on Wednesday.

England had announced earlier on Tuesday that paceman James Anderson is "fit" but will not play a part in the first Test as a precaution.

Spinner Jack Leach is included in the squad, as is Ben Stokes, whose last meaningful cricket came back in July.

Visiting England, who are looking to reclaim the urn from Australia's grip, will name their final XI at the toss.

Australia named their starting XI last week, with Travis Head getting the nod over Usman Khawaja in one of the big selection calls made by Pat Cummins.

England have won two of their last three Tests against Australia – including a 135-run win when they last met, though they are winless in their last 10 away Tests to Australia (D1, L9) having last won in the country in January 2011.

Joe Root's England have lost six of their last nine Tests heading into this series (W1 D2) and have lost their last three Tests away from home. The last time they lost more consecutive away Tests was a seven-game stretch from November 2016 to December 2017.

 

England squad for first Ashes Test: Joe Root (c), Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Haseeb Hameed, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.

James Anderson and Stuart Broad were the only members of the England squad who were born when the tourists last won an Ashes Test at the Gabba.

The hostile iconic Brisbane venue has been such a fortress for Australia that you have to go back to November 1986 for their previous Test defeat to England at the ground where the 2021-22 series starts on Wednesday.

Yet India consigned Australia to a first Gabba loss in the longest format for over 32 years in January and England captain Joe Root is backing his side to end the hoodoo, despite a lack of match practice due to rain.

The world's number one Test batter said: "[Victory] would absolutely set us up for the rest of the series and it's a great opportunity.

"This group of players, not that long ago, went to Cape Town where we've not won a Test for a long period of time and off the back of a performance there won the series.

"I feel like we have been able to do that around the world and this is an opportunity to do that here. Obviously conditions are slightly different to home, at this venue in particular with that extra bit of bounce, but we have prepared as well as we can for that. If we manage that well we should give a really good account of ourselves and start well."

Ben Stokes' return gives England a massive lift as they attempt to wrestle back the urn, though they won't have the usual level of backing from the Barmy Army as usual due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

The tourists were thrashed 4-0 in their last Ashes series Down Under in 2017-18 after the humiliation of a 2013-14 whitewash, so it is almost 10 years since their last Test win in Australia.

Stats Perform looks at some of the key factors that will decide whether they can make it a miserable start to Pat Cummins' reign as Australia Test captain.

 

Stoking the fires

Stokes has not played for his country since July, but declared himself fit to face Australia after taking a break to prioritise his mental well-being and fully recover from a fractured finger.

The all-rounder was England's player of the series in an Ashes series two years ago that ended in a 2-2 draw, scoring 441 runs at an average of 55.12 and producing one of the great innings at Headingley to pull off an unlikely victory.

Vice-captain Stokes' return should add strength to the middle order they have been lacking and Root will be hoping he can do some damage in short, sharp bursts with the ball.

 

Root must keep racking up the runs

It has been an incredible 2021 for Root, who has scored six Test centuries - including one double-hundred in Sri Lanka and another in India.

The skipper said this tour will define his captaincy and England will need him to keep racking up the runs if they are to return home with a surprise series win.

Only five batsmen have scored more Test centuries in a year than Root's tally, with Mohammad Yousuf holding the record with a staggering nine in 2006.

 

Lack of pace potency?

Not for the first time in Ashes, a lack of pace could be a big issue for England and how they would love to have a fit Jofra Archer firing.

Australian Troy Cooley was brought into the touring party as a consultant pace bowling coach and there is no doubting the quality in the England attack, led by James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

Broad tormented Warner in the 2019 series, but the opener could be much more difficult to dismiss on home soil with a Kookaburra ball and returned to form in Australia's recent T20 World Cup triumph.

Mark Wood is capable of doing damage but it remains to be seen how many Tests the injury-prone quick can play. Ollie Robinson could make a big impact in his first Ashes series and Chris Woakes can hit the sort of lengths to trouble batters in Australia.

Cricket Australia (CA) confirmed the fifth and final Ashes Test scheduled to be played in Perth has been relocated due to Western Australia's border strictions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ashes showdown between Australia and tourists England was set to be staged at Perth's Optus Stadium from January 14-18, however, the state's strict travel strictions has forced the series finale to be moved.

While CA announced the relocation of the Perth Test on Monday, no new host has been confirmed, with Hobart among the possible locations.

Melbourne – the scene for the Boxing Day Test – and Sydney, which will host the fourth Test, have been floated as possible new host venues for the Test match.

Under Western Australia's current border rules, visitors from New South Wales – where the fourth Test is due to take place from January 5-9 – must complete 14 days quarantine upon arrival.

Talks between CA and the WA state government had seemed to be heading in a positive direction last month, with a potentially shorter and more relaxed quarantine period for players, their families and match and broadcast staff, but the emergence of the Omicron variant has reaffirmed the state's hardline stance on borders.

"While absolutely every effort was made to ensure the final Test match of the series could be staged in Perth, border controls, quarantine requirements and the complexities of staging a five-Test series in a tight schedule have meant it is unfortunately not possible to align the respective priorities of the WA Government, CA and WA Cricket," CA said in a statement.

WA Sport and Recreation Minister Tony Buti had publicly spoken about a proposal to shift the order of the Tests, with Perth replacing the second Test in Adelaide starting December 16 – given borders remain open between WA and Queensland where the first Test will be held – but CA closed the door on that idea.

"These complexities also mean that any suggestion of changing the order of the venues would not be feasible," the statement said. "Discussions about a replacement venue for the fifth Test match are underway."

The decision is a major blow for WA Cricket and Perth, which missed out on a Test match during the last Australian summer following the postponement of a one-off game against Afghanistan.

WA Cricket CEO Christina Matthews said: "We are extremely disappointed for our Members, fans, Commercial Partners and the wider WA cricket community as well as all our staff and players who have been looking forward to and planning for the first ever Ashes to be played at Perth Stadium.

"We've been working closely and constructively with the WA Government and Cricket Australia for many months to bring this fixture to Perth amid the pandemic-related challenges we've faced.

"While this decision is very difficult to accept, the complexity of staging the Test in the face of strict border controls and quarantine requirements has resulted in it not being possible to align the respective priorities of the WA Government, Cricket Australia, and WA Cricket."

The first Ashes Test begins in Brisbane on Wednesday.

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.

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