Birmingham is England’s version of Brisbane for Australia. They have won 11 consecutive matches at Edgbaston in all formats, including the recent World Cup semi-final triumph over Australia. Australia went into that match having not won a one-dayer at the ground since 1993 and they haven’t won a Test at the venue since 2001.
Not surprisingly, Australia aren’t paying a lot of attention to that record. Asked whether there was a more intimidating ground in the world, Paine replied: “Than this? I can think of 15.
“We haven’t spoken about whether Edgbaston is a fortress for them because that’s irrelevant. It’s about being clear on what we want to do, both individually and as a team. If we can be really clear, come out and execute well, it doesn’t matter if we play at Edgbaston or on the moon, we think our best cricket is good enough.”
England captain Joe Root is a little more interested in his team’s record at the ground. “We’ve obviously got a very good record of late here. There’s something about the crowd here, they do just love a big game. That Hollies Stand gets very rowdy at times and I’m sure will have some sort of an input into the game over the five days.”
The boo boys
David Warner, Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft can expect a fierce reception as they return to the Test scene following their bans over the ball-tampering scandal. Warner and Smith were booed during the World Cup and Bancroft has had people ask him to sign pieces of sandpaper while playing county cricket for Durham. How they handle the hostility from the crowd will be important.
England certainly aren’t asking supporters to welcome them warmly. “I think if it was the other way around and we were going out to Australia I’m pretty sure we’d hear a lot about it,” England batsman Joe Denly said. “I’m sure the Aussies might hear a little about sandpapergate throughout the series … after a few beers.”
Paine says Australia “know what’s coming”. “It’s part and parcel,” he said. “We need to be strong enough to handle it.
Smith versus Root
The performance of the leading batsman on either side could well contribute heavily towards the outcome. Smith resumes his Test career averaging more than 60 across 64 matches while Root averages nearly 50 in 81 games.
Both made two hundreds – one of Smith’s being a double – in the Ashes in England in 2015. “He’s a proven world-class performer, a fantastic player,” Root said of Smith. “It will be interesting to see how it unfolds throughout the series. Last time they came, almost when the wickets were very good and flat he made it really count and made two very big hundreds. When it moved it around it looked slightly different. So it’ll be interesting to see how he approaches and tries to combat the movement out there and we can exploit anything early on.
“I wouldn’t say there’s for me, personally, a personal battle. If I can score more runs than him it gives us a good chance but it’ll be the same if Jason [Roy] scores more runs than him. It doesn’t really matter, collectively as long as we’re outperforming them, scoring more runs than them then we give ourselves the best chance of winning.”
There has been a lot of talk about both teams’ fast bowlers leading into the first Test but while Nathan Lyon and Moeen Ali haven’t caught a lot of attention, their roles could be crucial. Australia will look to target Moeen, who had endured a disappointing series when they last met in the Ashes 18 months ago, but the off-spinner should enjoy bowling to the tourists’ crew of left-handers given his stronger record against lefties. When it comes to Moeen’s batting Lyon will hope he can have a stranglehold over his counterpart again after dismissing him seven times from nine attempts in 2017/18.
“Gazza’s probably the best spin bowler in the world and he’s proven that now over a long period of time,” Paine said of Lyon. “No doubt he has flown under the radar a little bit, probably because he didn’t play much in the World Cup. I’m sure he’s being spoken about quite a lot in their change-room and they’ll be coming up with plans on how to try and counter Nathan. As we’ve seen the last three or four years in any conditions, he’s a real handful and he’s going to be a huge asset for us in this series.”
Chris Barrett is Sports Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.