1. England confirm pink-ball potency
It was a point mooted almost as soon as the Magellan Ashes schedule was released, but the tourists’ performance in their second tour match all but confirmed they’ll be a force to be reckoned with when they get their hands on the pink ball under lights in the second Test. Despite suffering a catastrophic collapse in the second innings, England cruised to a 192-run win against the CA XI thanks to a devastating evening session of their own, in which they reduced the hosts to a paltry 7-25.
With an attack more reliant on swing and seam movement than raw pace for wickets, England’s frontline attack of James Anderson (5-42) Chris Woakes (6-65) Craig Overton (4-55) and Jake Ball (1-5) all dominated (the latter, albeit briefly) as they exploited their control over the pink Kookaburra ball. An emphasis on survival during the most dangerous periods will no doubt be the mandate for Australia’s batsmen as they look to negate their Ashes rivals’ fondness for Test cricket’s latest innovation.
2. Cook’s struggles starting to become cause for concern
The adage ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ is one that can certainly be applied to England’s all-time leading Test run-scorer, but that doesn’t mean the tourists won’t be desperate for Alastair Cook to shrug off a shaky start to his Ashes tour in the team’s final warm-up match in Townsville. An unconvincing 15 off 28 in the first innings and equally scratchy 32 from 85 balls in the second was the response to a second-ball duck in Perth last week, with Cook yet to look comfortable against attacks well below the standards of what he’ll line-up against at the Gabba.
Adding to England’s anxiety is their dependence on the former captain to provide the lion’s share of runs at the top of the order as one of their only two specialist batsmen with more than seven Tests – and even more importantly, Ashes experience – to his name.
3. Bairstow’s anchoring role crucial for England
England’s most consistent batsman of the last 18 months not named Joe Root, Johnny Bairstow’s importance to his side has only been compounded by the loss of Ben Stokes at No.6. However, if his gritty knock in Adelaide is anything to go by, the man tasked with holding together England’s fragile middle and lower order may just be up to the task. After suffering a collapse of 7-45 in the second innings with the ball seaming and swinging around, only an unbeaten 61 from Bairstow helped push England’s lead past 200 as he refused to surrender his wicket to a momentum-fuelled CA XI attack.
As well as being relied upon to convert every hard-won chance England’s bowlers can create behind the stumps, the 28-year-old’s ability to arrest momentum and add crucial lower-order runs will go a long way to helping England retain the urn.
4. Crane a chance for surprise Ashes berth
Three wickets to uncapped spinner Mason Crane in Adelaide may have slightly increased his chances of a Test debut at the Gabba, but the likelihood of an Ashes berth for the 20-year-old may be determined by availability as much as merit. With regular tweaker and allrounder Moeen Ali in doubt for the first Test with a side strain and England’s fast-bowling stocks already stretched paper-thin, Crane’s ability to stay healthy may be what sees him included in the England line-up for the first Test.
Crane was the least economical of England’s bowlers in Adelaide after conceding 105 from his 27 overs, but England coach Trevor Bayliss is on record as saying he would have “no problem at all” selecting the young leggie after being impressed with his competitiveness. Add that to Crane’s record in Australia (he claimed the Bill O’Reilly Medal as the best-and-fairest in NSW Premier Cricket last season as well as a state call-up for the Blues) and Crane is every chance of making an appearance in England’s XI at some stage this summer.
5. Stoneman’s strong pre-Ashes form continues
While his higher-profile opening partner has struggled so far in Australian conditions, Mark Stoneman has had no such trouble since stepping off the plane in Perth. Having already posted an impressive 88 against a WA XI at the WACA, Stoneman fired twice more in Adelaide to make it three consecutive half centuries from three digs Down Under. No stranger to Australia’s bouncy tracks after six seasons in the NSW Premier Cricket competition, what the 30-year-old lacks in Test experience selectors will be hoping he can make up for in local knowledge.
Regardless of his performance in Townsville, Stoneman is all but certain to line up for the visitors alongside Cook at the Gabba. And if current form is anything to go by, he could be relied upon to maintain the flow of runs and compensate for his out-of-touch partner as best he can.
2017-18 International Fixtures:
Magellan Ashes Series
First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets
Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets
Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets
Gillette T20 INTL Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 13
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21