Ashes 2013/14: Australia must catch England cold at the Gabba - or else
The Ashes is here - and our Panel says that Australia can't afford to start slowly. Or else.
Last Updated: 20/11/13 12:55pm
Both teams have completed their final practice sessions ahead of the first Test in Brisbane, where Australia have won 33 off their 55 Tests - their last defeat of eight coming in 1988.
So can England hit the ground running and what makes the Gabba such a home stronghold?
Sky Cricket pundits Sir Ian Botham, David 'Bumble' Lloyd, David Gower, Nasser Hussain, Andrew Strauss and Michael Atherton share their thoughts ahead of the start of the series...
The big build-up...
Botham: I think everybody just wants to get out there and play. At the end of the day it's all about what happens in the middle and both sides will be excited at the prospect at getting out there and doing battle. That's what the Ashes is all about. I haven't seen anything to make me change my mind about England winning 5-0. The first day of the first Test is always tough, whichever way it goes because both sides will want to make an impression but I think that England, as a team, out-gun Australia.
Bumble: The papers are full of this series and England have had some almighty vitriol against them. I don't think England have said a word as yet and to be honest the Australian players haven't but the odd time when an Australian player has said an English player might be vulnerable has been pounced on by the press. The Gabba will be packed, the weather is set fair and the pitch looks an absolute belter. There's always a tinge of green here and Ricky Ponting told me that as a captain sometimes you look at it and think 'bowl, bowl, bowl' but then you've got to bat. England could be vulnerable here. The captain, Alastair Cook, has handled himself very well and looked very relaxed in the press conferences whereas I think Michael Clarke has looked edgy. But England are notoriously poor starters so they need to get stronger as they did last time around.
Strauss: The players will be feeling pretty nervous, I would have thought; it's going to be about how they control those emotions. The first hour or so is going to be really important. The England players will have discussed how they deal with the banter beforehand; they key is not to be affected by it. The England players look like they've been quite light-hearted about the whole thing, having a bit of a laugh and joke and I think that's a good way to do it because ultimately the banter is a bit of fun.
Gower: In home conditions, Australia tend to know a little bit more about it than visiting teams who can come to the Gabba a bit cold if they haven't had a great warm up. It is slightly alien conditions and there's normally a bit of bounce in the pitch and that's often enough to get home players up and running. England, last time, weren't up to speed for the first couple of days but they got away with it by making 1,000s in the second innings but you can't rely on that all of the time. But let's face it - everyone tends to feel their way into the series a little bit. If it does click into place, as it did in 1986/87, then that's absolutely great. If it takes a day or two longer, then you just have to work around it.
Botham: I always think back to playing here in 1986/87 when we lost all of the warm-up games - we lost to everybody on the planet - and then we won everything from that point on. So I don't read much into what has gone before. What matters is what happens when those two teams go out there on this pitch. Whoever those two batsmen are who walk out first thing, they'll feel pretty lonely. I don't think any England player plays in front of an Australian crowd and gets a warm welcome - if they do they're not doing their job!
Bumble: It really grows on you. If you feel that this is a bit of a fortress and you've historically done well here, you can take that into the game. But I'm going back to the summer and England's 3-0 win even though they didn't play brilliantly. They ticked over and won 3-0. Despite what the press say, have Australia changed so much? I think they're heading for a fall.
On Pietersen's 100th Test...
Botham: If you look at his stats, he's one of the great players of the modern game. He averages almost 49 per innings, has a strike-rate of over 62 and has scored 23 hundreds. I think Kevin Pietersen could well be the star of the show for England over here this summer.
Gower on KP: The highs have been extraordinarily high. He's produced some of the most brilliant innings that we've seen over the last decade - there is a whole stack of them going back to his first Ashes series, at the Oval. When he plays like that it's great to watch. From what I've seen and heard over the last couple of weeks, he seems to be in good form both on the field and off the field, which I hope bodes well for him. It's never easy to guarantee yourself a successful Test match when you play your 100th. It's a magic milestone and it's a very proud moment for him. If he can mark that with one of his better innings, that would be great to watch.
Atherton on KP: I think he is the best England player I have seen in 30 years. There have been some good players along the way - Gooch, Gower and all these guys - but he is the best I've seen. It has been a remarkable story," added Atherton. When I first played against him in 1999 he was bowling off-spin and batting number nine. In four or five years he is playing for England as a mainline top-order batsman and has gone on to have one of the great careers as an England player.
Hussain on KP: The way he bats has been absolutely brilliant over the years. English cricket owes him, the way he plays, the way he entertains. There have been incidents, but that's all part of being Kevin Pietersen. It would be a pretty dull world if it was all boring batsmen and no incident and it was all Cook, Trott and Bell, lovely, nice guys who don't cause you any problems at all. I think cricket it better placed for having the likes of Kevin Pietersen. There's some characters in the game and he is certainly one of them.
Gower: The fact that they are trying to improve the technology is good. We've got to accept that technology is here to stay. One or two people down here have been saying that actually they'd quite like to bin it. I don't think that is the way forward; I think you have to improve it and make sure that the percentages go up and not down. A lot of that is to do with the interpretation.
I have a tiny bit of sympathy with the umpires here because some of this stuff is potentially quite tricky. On other occasions they've got it wrong and they need to be blamed for that. The fact that we've got Tony Hill in the third umpire seat throughout means that he can have a consistent time of things - he's the man designated to look after technology this time. I think the more they do it, the more they get comfortable with it.
On Prior's fitness...
Strauss: Prior is the engine room - he's the fulcrum of the middle-order and he bats very well with the tail as well. He has become a bit of a master at that. Then there's all the work he does in the field, gee-ing everyone up and keeping them going when it's hot and difficult. He has become a really, really important cog in the team - plus he's vice-captain. He would have been a big loss but the indications are he's probably going to be ok to play.
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