London: AFP Sport examines four key England players for the five-Test Ashes series against Australia, which starts in Brisbane on Thursday:
Joe Root (captain)
The 26-year-old right-hander is the most talented batsman in the England squad as well as having the responsibility of being skipper, with this his first overseas series as captain. Since taking over as captain earlier this year, he has averaged more than 60 in Tests. Root’s side will look to their captain to shore up a struggling top order by blunting Australia’s pace attack with big scores.
As England’s all-time leading run-scorer, with more than 11,000 Test runs, the former captain and left-handed opening batsman could well be someone Root seeks out for advice. The 32-year-old had a brilliant series when England won the 2010-2011 Ashes in Australia, scoring 766 runs at an astounding average of more than 127. But he struggled during England’s 5-0 series loss in Australia in 2013-2014, and questions remain as to whether he can get back to his best in the face of top-class fast bowling.
The 28-year-old son of the late England wicket-keeper David Bairstow has become a mainstay of the side with both bat and gloves. On paper, he appears to give England an edge behind the stumps, given the reaction that greeted Australia’s decision to recall wicketkeeper Tim Paine from the wilderness. Increasingly reliable with the gloves, Bairstow can also change the course of an innings with dynamic middle-order batting but, in common with so many of his England team-mates, there are doubts over his ability to cope with express bowling on bouncy pitches.
James Anderson (vice-captain)
England’s all-time leading Test wicket-taker remains Root’s go-to bowler in the field, so if Australia can get after him then England could well struggle. Although he reached 500 Test wickets earlier this year there are concerns that, at the age of 35, this could be one tour of Australia too many for Anderson. Unlikely to get the swing-friendly conditions that make him so dangerous in England, he will be looking to improve on a record in Australia that has seen him take 43 wickets in 13 Tests at an average of 38. Now vice-captain in the absence of the suspended Ben Stokes.