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The ASHES preview: England and Australia do battle once again Down Under

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Credit: espn cricket - the First Test starts in under 24 hours...

The eagerly awaited 2021-2022 Ashes series gets underway in less than 24 hours at the Gabba as two of the most passionate cricketing nations go head-to-head once again.

The five-match series has been the subject of tense negotiations over quarantine arrangements in place for players and their families because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

However, many tough decisions have been made as the England and Wales Cricket Broad and Cricket Australia finally agreed to give England’s two-month tour the go ahead.

England coach Chris Silverwood was allowed to select an 18-man squad for the tour given the complications caused by the pandemic, while Australia initially named a 15-man squad for the first two Tests, before cutting it down to 12 just a few days ahead of the first Test.

The first Test in Brisbane begins on December 8th as the first day of the series is completely sold out.

The two sides have now selected their twelve man squads for the game in Queensland and will confirm their eleven at the toss on Wednesday morning.

THE TEAMS

For Australia, Mitchell Starc is in the side ahead of Jhye Richardson despite averaging over 40 in the last home series against India. Meanwhile, Travis Head gets the nod over Usman Khawaja at five.

Pat Cummins will captain the side for the first time following the sexting scandal surrounding ex-skipper Tim Paine who has since made himself unavailable.

The decision to put Cummins in charge of the side means he will be the first fast bowler to lead Australia since the 1950s. Cummins has indicated he won’t be taking the new ball as he gets to grips with the role.

England travelled to Brisbane a couple of weeks ago to start their preparation for one of sports most iconic rivalries but have been left frustrated by the weather as both warm up games were interrupted heavily by the rain.

The tourists were hit by disappointing news this morning as veteran bowler James Anderson misses out on the first test due to an ongoing calf issue, although word from the camp is that this is precaution given the lack of match practice leading up to the series.

England will still have painful memories of losing Anderson just four overs into the first Test in 2019.

Anderson’s absence means Chris Woakes is expected to play in Brisbane, with Ollie Robinson, Mark Wood and either Stuart Broad or spinner Jack Leach reportedly make up the rest of the attack.

England have confirmed Ollie Pope will play at No 6 in the batting order instead of Jonny Bairstow.

The final question mark – whether Leach plays or not, is dependent on how a green-tinged pitch looks when the squad turn up at the Gabba in the morning.

Here are the full squads for the first Ashes Test in Brisbane:

AUS:                                                                                                               ENG:

 

 

After Brisbane’s curtain-raiser it’s off to the Adelaide Oval for the day-night Test, followed by the iconic Boxing Day Test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Moving into the New Year, the fourth Test is at the Sydney Cricket Ground, where England clinched the famous 3-1 away series win back in 2010/11.

The fifth Test was initially scheduled to be played at the Optus Stadium in Perth but due to COVID restrictions in the area, a new venue is set to be announced in the coming days.

WHY IS IT SO HARD TO WIN DOWN UNDER?

England Captain Joe Root and his team are going to have defy the odds if they are to become only the third touring party to win in Australia for 42 years.

Only James Anderson and Stuart Broad remain from the momentous 3-1 win Down Under over a decade ago.

The tourists have failed to win in the last 10 Test Matches on Australian soil and were demolished 5-0 back in 2013-14. The last win came by over an innings in Sydney and put the icing on the cake of the 2010-11 tour where England outplayed the Aussies.

England also won by an innings at the MCG the game before.

Since then there have been 9 defeats and one no result in ten Tests Down Under – a disappointing return.

Before that, Mike Gatting’s team, who in the words of the late Martin Johnson “can’t bat, can’t bowl and can’t field”, overcame the doubts and emerged victorious in 1986-87.

The intense heat, the hard, fast, bouncy pitches and off-field pressures are all factors that make it so incredibly tough to compete Down Under.

Credit: Danny Reuben – the Gabba pitch just days before the opening game

This time round, the strength of the Australian bowling unit should be worrying to everyone associated with England as the tourists name a number of inexperienced batsmen in their squad.

Names like openers Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed, along with mid-order players Ollie Pope and Dawid Malan are very much unknown quantities in this environment and will be looking to become the next Ashes heroes for their country.

Malan had a decent showing in England’s last trip across the globe as the visitors fell to a demoralising 4-0 defeat.

However, the England number five scored big on a number of occasions including the first Test where he scored 56 in the 1st Innings. Malan followed this up with an impressive 140 in the third Test at the Optus stadium in Perth.

Off-field antics have been dominated by the home side during the build-up to the long-awaited series with remarks from legend leg-spinner Shane Warne about Mitchell Starc’s form with the ball, as well as the sexting scandal surrounding ex-captain Tim Paine, who has since left the squad.

On the field, England have had a massively underwhelming preparation for the series with half of the squad involved in the recent T20 World Cup and the other half having to deal with some unexpected issues due to the weather.

The two intra-squad warm-up games have been cut short due to rain as star man Ben Stokes joined the after initially naming himself unavailable due to mental health reasons. It’s good to see the all-rounder back doing what he loves. Go Well, Ben.

That being said, can anything prepare the players for the next two months of gruelling conditions and intensity on and off the field? Other than getting stuck straight in.

Steve Harmison, who set the tone for that 5-0 whitewash 15 years ago by bowling the first ball of the series straight into the hands of second slip, spoke to the Independent via IndiaBetting.co.in and had this to say:

“You get off the flight at 6am, your bags get checked for your bowling boots and any English soil had to be checked.

“While you were getting that done, the bag checker was telling you how well [Glenn] McGrath is bowling and how [Ricky] Ponting is in sublime form and he’s going to average 100 in the series. So you get it from the minute you get off the plane.”

He added:

“That’s the start and it goes on for eight weeks from there. It’s the whole package – the wickets are good, the players are good but it’s the all-round intense nature of an Ashes tour.”

SO, CAN ENGLAND WIN?

Sport never fails to disappoint and cricket especially, is a funny old game.

England are huge underdogs heading into the first Test at the Gabba and rightly so, but that doesn’t mean victory down under is impossible. Here are a few things the tourists should be looking for heading into the intense five game series:

Make a mark in Brisbane

The first Test of the Ashes in Australia is always in Brisbane – a happy hunting ground for the Aussies who more often than not get off to an impressive start by completely demoralising the touring party.

Back in 2013-14 and 2017-18 that is exactly what happened.

After a shaky start eight years ago, Australia hit back with an impressive partnership between Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson before the pace bowler ripped open the English middle order taking 4-61 as the tourists fell to 136 all out after the hosts reached 295.

In the more recent 2017-18 tour the Aussies were at it again in Brisbane. After another slow start and a pretty even game after the first innings, England were dismissed for a timid 195, leaving Australia with a very getable 170 in the final innings are the game.

A score they flew to without losing a single wicket.

However, England’s memorable tour of 2010 was a completely different story.

Having been staring down the barrel of a 221-run first-innings deficit at the end of day two, England piled up 517 for one declared over the next three days courtesy of an unbeaten 235 from Alastair Cook and further centuries from Strauss and Jonathan Trott.

A psychological blow was struck which was taken as valuable as a win for the tourists who left something on their rivals going into the rest of the series – ending in a 3-1 for England.

Having a batsman in-form

Alastair Cook’s unforgettable knock of 235* in the first Test of the 2010/11 Ashes series down under set the tone for what was to follow. Cook battled with true grit for 625 minutes to wear the Australians down – paving the way for England’s historic first Ashes win for 24 years.

He continued his ridiculous form for the rest of the series with 766 runs and top scored for the whole series – an impressive feat as the opener finished the series with an average of 122.66.

Other batters will need to follow suit like in the 2010/11 tour as Trott, Strauss, Bell, Pietersen and Prior all scored centuries.

If someone can dig in and go big, Root is the obvious candidate, England will have a fighting chance but the captain needs backup from elsewhere.

Could it be the making of a new legend of Ashes cricket?

Credit: @englandcricket instagram – Root has named his 12-man squad for the first Test in Brisbane

Be Ruthless at all times

Much can be taken from the historic Headingley victory in 2019 as the Australian’s failed to bring their ruthless streak when Stokes snatched the win from the barrels of defeat.

What a delightful innings, made even more memorable by Jack Leach’s glasses wiping antics.

A lesson to the whole of the touring party – Australia can be got at.

The electric atmosphere will live long in the memories of the Aussies who were demoralised that day by perhaps the current best all-rounder in Test Cricket.

England need to cash in on the inexperience of captain Cummins and the media circus surrounding Tim Paine and his sexting scandal.

Yes, some of the Aussies are fresh from T20 success having won the World Cup in Dubai but a few of the players may be struggling with fitness as a result. It’s important England get off to a strong start and show they aren’t there to entertain, but to win.

The tourists also need to be ruthless in selection. In 2010, Stephen Finn was left out of the team for the Boxing Day Test following defeat in Perth, despite being England’s top wicket taker at the time. Tim Bresnan was his replacement and played a crucial role in the wins at Melbourne and Sydney that followed.

Frustrate the Australian public and stick together

The 2013-14 tour of Australia will stick in the memory most England fans and players alike.

The media and public Down Under continuously mocked and attacked the team who were struggling with internal issues including the mental state of a lot of their players and the role of Kevin Pieterson, among other things.

As time went on it was clear that the England team was fragile as their camp begin to split. Broad, Swann, Trott and KP all left the tour at different times as the team on the field fell to a humiliating 5-0 whitewash with the Aussies being as ruthless as ever.

However, the previous tour had been a sparking success for the tourists. By the end of the first Test, the Gabba was empty bar a small section of England fans.

By the end of the series the Aussie media had branded Ricky Ponting’s men the worst Australian team in history.

Likewise in 1987, Aussie attention switched to the Davis Cup tennis as soon as the Ashes looked to be exchanging hands.

Australia may be a tough place to tour but it’s worth remembering it doesn’t take much before the locals start turning on each other.

Andrew Strauss has recalled the final session on day one of the 2010 Boxing Day Test in Melbourne on a number of occasions since. After England had bowled Australia out for 98 and had a lead by the end of the first day, the locals began to turn. By the end of the match, the MCG was full of English supporters with no sign of the previously wax-lyrical Aussies.

He said:

“One of my great memories as an England player was when we were about 100 for one watching 60,000-odd Aussies trying to find their way out of the MCG because they were so disgusted by the way that Cook and I were batting.”

From an English point of view, more of the same please.

Pre-series thoughts? Can England pull of an unlikely upset? Will Australia’s quicks have too much for the English batters? Score predictions?

Join in the conversation and have your say…

 

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Meet the British Woman Hoping to End F1’s 46-year Wait For a Female Driver

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The modern sports industry remains a very male dominated field. Historically motorsport especially being one of the most inaccessible to women.

In its entire 72-year history, only two women have ever driven in a Formula 1 grand prix. The last was the pioneer Lella Lombardi, the Italian who competed in 12 races between 1974 and 1976 for teams including Williams.

Now, Britain’s Jamie Chadwick is aiming to end the 46-year wait for a woman to sit behind the wheel of a car on the starting grid at the very top level of racing.

The 23-year-old from Bath, is the most prominent woman in world the world of motorsport thanks to the strong results she has earned in the early stages of her career across multiple categories.

Chadwick is about to embark on her third season in W Series, an all-female racing championship launched in 2019 which aims to ensure more women are able to make professional careers out of motor racing.

The aim means that, in conjunction with the heated rivalry that understandably comes with battling for the championship on track, the athletes competing in W Series feel they share a common goal to help one another improve and make overall progress for women in motorsport too. Chadwick has won the title in both of W Series’ first two campaigns.

Speaking to Metro she said:  ‘Everyone expects us not to get on [because we are rivals] but we really, genuinely do. The big reason in my opinion is that we’ve all been through such a similar experience in the sport individually. We can share those experiences with each other and push each other to bring one another on, and hopefully leave the sport in a better place for the next generation coming through.’

Do you think she stands a chance of making it?

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Newcastle co-owner says Chelsea’s Abramovich having to sell isn’t fair

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Credit: Chelsea FC Instagram

Newcastle co-owner Amanda Staveley “doesnt think its particularly fair” that Roman Abramovich is selling following the Russia-Ukraine war.

The businessman announced he had made the “incredibly difficult decision” in a statement on the Premier League club’s website.

There has been calls for Abramovich to be sanctioned, as Chris Bryant alleges leaked Home Office document from 2019 shows he had links to Russian state as well as to “corrupt activity and practices” – the Guardian reports.

Speaking at the Financial Times Business of Football Summit, Staveley said: “We’re always going to have geopolitical issues.

I’m really sad that someone is going to have a football club taken away because of a relationship he may have with someone.

“I don’t think that’s particularly fair to be honest. But I also think that we have to hold all of our relationships to account.”

In his statement, Abramovich said: “I have always taken decisions with the club’s best interest at heart.

“In the current situation, I have therefore taken the decision to sell the club, as I believe this is in the best interest of the club, the fans, the employees, as well as the club’s sponsors and partners.

“The sale of the club will not be fast-tracked but will follow due process.”

Abramovich has said that he won’t be asking for loans to be repaid.

He added: “I have instructed my team to set up a charitable foundation where all net proceeds from the sale will be donated. The foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine.”

The businessman bought Chelsea back in 2003 for £140m, and has since loaned the club over £1.5bn.

Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss has told Swiss newspaper Blick that he has the chance to buy Chelsea.

However he says that at the moment Abramovich is “asking far too much.”

What are your thoughts?

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Russia’s captain Aleksandr Golovin speaks out on Russian invasion

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Credit: Aleksandr Golovin Instagram

Russia’s football captain Aleksandr Golovin has spoke out about the Russia-Ukraine war.

In a post uploaded to Instagram on Wednesday, the footballer said he hadn’t before now because he wasn’t an expert in politics.

However, he said he would now express his opinion, because he has been drawn to this topic from “all sides.”

It follows furious backlash from Ukrainian players Vitalii Mykolenko and Andriy Yarmolenko about Russian players staying quiet about the invasion of Ukraine.

The captain wrote: “War is a frightful thing. But I am shocked by human aggression and hatred, which every day acquires some sort of unprecedented scale.

“I am against discrimination based on nationality. I’m not ashamed that I’m Russian. I am proud to be Russian. And I don’t understand why athletes should suffer now.”

He continued he was “against double standards.”

Golovin added: “Why is it that one can do everything, but all the dogs are hanged on us. Why has everyone always shouted about sports outside of politics, but at the first opportunity, when it comes to Russia, this principle is completely forgotten?”

He expressed that “anger, dirt and bile” is being poured on Russian people, “regardless of their position and profession.”

The Zenit St Petersburg forward concluded: “P.S. And to some colleagues in the workshop who sit on their ass in mansions in England and say nasty things: it cannot offend us, we understand everything! Peace and goodness to everybody!”

On Tuesday in an Instagram post, Everton’s Mykolenko criticised Russia’s international players for remaining silent whilst “peaceful civilians are being killed in Ukraine.”

The 22-year-old wrote: “You will be locked in your dungeon for the rest of your life and most importantly the lives of your kids. And I’m glad.”

West Ham’s Yarmolenko also hit out at Russian players on Tuesday.

In a video uploaded to Instagram, he said: “Guys, why are you sitting like shitheads and not saying anything? In my country they’re killing people, killing wives, killing our children. But you’re saying nothing, you’ve given no comments.”

Russia has been suspended from all competition, Fifa and Uefa have ruled.

 

 

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