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The Ashes: First Test preview

The wait is almost over, with the first of five Ashes Tests between England and Australia set to get underway at Edgbaston in Birmingham on Friday evening.

On paper it looks like being a cracking series, with both sides in tip-top form in red-ball cricket and already enjoying some verbal sparring just before the off.

The Baggy Greens head to Edgbaston on the back of a thumping 209-run victory over India in the World Test Championship Final at The Oval.

Meanwhile, under the leadership of coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes, the Three Lions have won 11 of the 13 Tests they have played in just over the last 12 months.

So, the recent efforts of both teams lead you to expect an absolute thriller between Friday and the end of July.

WhatEngland v Australia, 1st Test
WhereEdgbaston, Birmingham
WhenFrom 20:00 AEST, Friday 16th June
How to watchChannel 7, Foxtel, Kayo
OddsEngland 2.37, Draw 5.00, Australia 2.25

Edgbaston offers hope for both sides

Australia will be only too aware that England are to be highly respected when they take to the field in Birmingham, having won their last Test at the venue by seven wickets against India, chasing down 378 to win in their second innings in some style.

However, Pat Cummins and co will not be too fearful, with five clashes with England at Edgbaston this century having produced two wins apiece and a draw.

Their last meeting came in 2019, when the tourists romped to a 251-run win in the series opener, with Steven Smith registering knocks of 142 and 144, while Cummins took seven wickets in the match and off-spinner Nathan Lyon claimed nine.

Smith is 4.33 to be Top Match Batter, while, with first innings runs on the board likely to be absolutely crucial, he is 3.25 to be Team - Top 1st Inns Batter.

Options open for captain Cummins

Australia do not have too many selection issues to deal with, especially with their batting line-up seemingly already fixed and in place as the series gets underway.

It is not quite the same story with the ball, with seamer Josh Hazlewood declared fit and potentially challenging Scott Boland for a fast-bowling spot alongside Cummins and Mitchell Starc.

However, Boland has done absolutely nothing wrong when called upon and his five wickets in the recent win over India will not have harmed his chances in any way - with his record now standing at 33 wickets at 14.57 in the eight Tests he has played.

Gifted with the ability to deliver the mysterious "heavy ball", Australia will hope to see Boland have the same impact in England as the likes of Paul Reiffel and Ryan Harris have previously done.

He may just be the perfect bowler to test out the techniques of England openers Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett.

And he also has previous against England, having been drafted in for his debut in the 2021/22 Ashes series and responding by taking 18 wickets in three matches.

He can be backed at 5.00 to be Team - Top 1st Inns Bowler, with Cummins the market leader at 4.00.

Lyon is not worth following in that market, but, having led the way at Edgbaston four years ago, he certainly demands attention at 6.50 to be Top Match Bowler.

Hosts have firepower aplenty

England have emerged from the doldrums refreshed and renewed in the last 12 months, so much so that there appears to be little between the two teams ahead of the off.

Of course Glenn McGrath has predicted a 5-0 clean sweep for the Baggy Greens and, although that seems very unlikely, the attacking approaches of both sides could ensure results across all five matches, with the tourists 7.00 to claim a 3-2 series victory.

The hosts have both Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali back in the fold for Edgbaston, while much attention will be focused on seeing how new bating star Harry Brook copes in the cauldron of Ashes clashes.

Skipper Stokes will also be centre stage and whether his knee problems allow him to bowl could be crucial to the final outcome.

Somewhat flying under the radar is former captain Joe Root, who averages 60.81 at Edgbaston, including having made an immaculate 142 not out in the aforementioned victory over India just under a year ago.

He also has a century and three 50s from his last four Test innings and, amongst the firecrackers in the England batting line-up, he offers a relatively calming presence, which could prove crucial when the heat is turned up.

Root is 4.00 to be Team - Top 1st Inns Batter, while Ollie Pope - now a key figure for the hosts at number three - is available at 5.50.

With the ball, the always fiery Ollie Robinson looks like a character who could revel in the biggest challenge of all, with his record of 66 wickets from 16 Tests at 21.27 showing he is a high-quality seamer.

He is 3.40 to be Team - Top 1st Inns Bowler and 6.50 to be Top Match Bowler.

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