The Ashes 2019 Preview: England and Australia set to battle it out again
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Australia thumped England 4-0 in the last series but will need to reverse the recent run of results to secure another victory this summer having not won on English soil in almost two decades. 

England, who have not lost to Australia at home since 2001, enter the current series as World Cup champions after beating New Zealand in an incredible final less than three weeks ago.

The 2019 Ashes Schedule

First Test - August 1-5 (Edgbaston)

Second Test - August 14-18 (Lord's)

Third Test - August 22-26 (Headingly)

Fourth Test - September 4-8 (Old Trafford)

Fifth Test - September 12-16 (The Oval)

England Ashes Squad

Joe Root (capt) Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler (wk), Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Olly Stone, Chris Woakes.

England have kept faith in the top-order that was dismantled by Ireland at Lord’s last week, with Surrey team-mates Jason Roy and Rory Burns set to open and Joe Root the captain has changed to  No. 3. 

England’s top-order struggles have been well documented and Burns comes into The Ashes on the back of two failures against Ireland. In seven Tests, the 28-year-old averages just 22 runs.

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There are also question marks over his opening partner. Roy is one of the most destructive players in the world in one-day cricket but will have to prove his worth in the test arena against a formidable Australian attack.

England’s World Cup hero Ben Stokes relishes the big stage and can make an impact with the bat, ball and in the field. It was with the bat that he really thrived in the World Cup, scoring 465 runs in ten innings and powering the hosts’ home in the final at Lord’s.

Stokes back as vice-captain

Stokes has revealed the pride he felt after being reinstated as England's Test vice-captain.

Stokes was stripped of the role in 2017 following a late-night brawl in Bristol but was restored as Root's deputy ahead of The Ashes, which starts in Birmingham on Thursday.

The all-rounder has impressed with the maturity he has shown around the England camp since being cleared on a charge of affray, with his off-field influence matched by his inspirational efforts during the triumphant World Cup campaign.

Jos Buttler had been acting as Root's right-hand man but was happy to pass the baton back after ECB director of men's cricket Ashley Giles and chief executive Tom Harrison recommended Stokes' restoration. 

Speaking to Metro, the 28-year-old said: "I love having that responsibility and it is something that I thoroughly enjoy doing.

"I take pride in being vice-captain. Being part of that think-tank is pretty cool." 

I am very good friends with Joe as well, off the field, and as much as I can do to help him through his career, not just as a captain but as a player as well, I am really looking forward to that challenge."

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Root in at No.3

England skipper Root has opted to bat number three in their opening Ashes Test on Thursday at Edgbaston despite making number four in the batting order, his own since being dropped from the number 3 spot after his disastrous 2013/14 Ashes tour.

It is a very bold decision from the captain who struggled to find mega form in England’s world cup triumph, throwing away his wicket in the final against New Zealand.

Trevor Bayliss has made no secret of his desire for Root to bat third, but it’s understood the latter made the decision and approached England’s head coach over the swap.

The reshuffle means Joe Denly, who has been batting at No. 3, will likely move down to No. 4 in the order.

Root has not batted at three since the infamous 2013-14 Ashes tour in Australia when he lost his place in the England side for the first and only time in his esteemed Test career. When playing for England, Root averages 40 at No. 3 compared with 48 at No. 4.

Bairstow batting woes

Former England captain Michael Vaughan has called on Jonny Bairstow to drastically improve his form ahead of the first Test when speaking to TimesNowNews.

"Jonny Bairstow is averaging six in the past two years when the ball has been hitting the stumps from a pace bowler," he said. 

"That is not good enough. Being bowled 14 times out of 31 is also not good enough."

Vaughan added: ‘" am just being realistic. For a player who plays like he can it is just not good enough. He is the kind of guy who needs to be switched on mentally to be at his best, and he did not look like that against Ireland. 

"He will get criticised after this week and that often brings the best out of him. But he is averaging under 30 in the past two years now – you cannot tell me he keeps getting jaffas. 

‘"n the World Cup semi-final, Starc bowled a delivery that swung into Bairstow at 92mph. He defended it immaculately. That is what I would like to see him do in Test cricket."

Australia Ashes Squad

Tim Paine (capt & wk), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade (wk), David Warner. 

The top-three that helped Australia win the last Ashes series are back together for the first time since last year’s ball-tampering scandal. 

Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft all received bans for their roles in ‘sandpaper-gate’ but will make their Test returns in The Ashes. 

Conditions suggest they will face a sterner examination this time around but Smith and Warner, in particular, are pure class, with the former averaging more than 60 in Tests and the latter touching 50.

There is sure to be an unwarming atmosphere made for these three, especially at the rowdy Edgbaston ground in the first test on Thursday.

Australia will hope to win an Ashes series in England for the first time since 2001 and it will take some doing but, the two sides seem more evenly matched than ever and as England beat the Aussies in the semi-finals of the World Cup just a few weeks ago, Australia will come to redeem their ODI exit and will want to prove to this young England side that there is a huge difference in nerve in test cricket.

Like England, Australia are also blessed in the pace-bowling department. Mitchell Starc cemented his status as the best one-day bowler on the planet during the World Cup, taking a record 27 wickets. 

While less prolific in Tests, he will pose a genuine threat over the next six weeks and yet Starc could quite plausibly find his performances upstaged by two brilliant team-mates in Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, as was the case in 2017-18. James Pattinson, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser and Peter Siddle will battle it out for the final place in an Australia side which appears strong in both facets.

Ashes stats head-to-head

Top Run Scorer: Steve Smith Australia

Smith looked in fine form throughout the World Cup, despite failing to score a century, and no player in this Ashes series can rival his hunger for runs.

The 30-year-old already has eight Ashes centuries to his name and will expect to enter double figures over the next six weeks.

Some will say he will be exposed in English conditions but the brilliant players find a way to adjust, as India’s Virat Kohli showed last summer.

It was the then-Australia captain Smith who stamped his authority on the last Ashes series, leading from the front with three tons and two fifties in eight innings.

England’s Root, another modern-day great, could rival his Australian counterpart, and in-form opener Warner is expected to respond to the inevitable jeers with a bucket full of runs, but Smith could be in a league of his own.

Leading Wicket Taker: James Anderson

While Anderson, England’s record wicket-taker with 575 Test scalps, has no plans to retire, this may well be his final Ashes campaign and will probably be his last at home. 

Anderson missed the Ireland Test as a precaution after picking up a minor calf injury in his last first-class appearance, exactly a month ago. Not ideal preparation for the Ashes, guaranteed, but also not particularly alarming, giving his experience and class. 

England have a number of talented seam bowlers in their ranks but Anderson remains the best of the bunch and is virtually unplayable in the right conditions. 

Glenn McGrath believes that the key to the series is held by James Anderson. Anderson, like McGrath, continues to operate at the peak of his powers long after his contemporaries have begun to succumb to the ravages of time. 

Although he has just turned 37, he is still the ICC's No.2-ranked fast bowler in Test cricket and he is much the same age as McGrath himself was when he spearheaded Australia's 5-0 Ashes win in his farewell series in 2006-07.

Several Australians – most notably Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins – should also boast impressive numbers by the end of the series but there is no reason why England’s greatest bowler cannot emerge on top.

Player to watch: Ben Stokes

For all that Ben Stokes has achieved, he is yet to take hold of an Ashes series in the manner of Freddie Flintoff, who he has so often been likened to during his England career to date. 

Yes, there was the century in Perth in just his second Ashes match, and the six-for at Trent Bridge 18 months later, and of course that catch in the same Test, but you get the sense the best is yet to come from Stokes in the Ashes.

Having missed the last series due to off-field issues, there surely cannot be a player more motivated to perform this summer and help his team lift the urn than Stokes.

As England’s World Cup final hero said this week: "The World Cup is over and now I’m just desperate to win those Ashes back. This is the team I love playing against and beating more than any other."