Both sides have taken a gamble, albeit on players at opposite ends of their careers. Alastair Cook will be looking to lead from the front, and continue the remarkable form he showed in the 2010/11 series, when he scored an unbelievable 766 runs at an average of 127.6. He'll need to utilise his experience and leadership as he partners youngster Joe Root, who will be opening in the Test match arena for the very first time, in his very first Ashes series, after getting the nod ahead of Nick Compton. The Aussies have bumped Shane Watson - who averages 48 in Ashes matches, 13 more than his overall average - back up to open, mostly due to a lack of other candidates, and that reasoning has also seen them select the 35-year-old Chris Rogers, who made his solitary Test appearance back in 2008.
The biggest news in this area surrounds a certain Kevin Pietersen, who comes back after missing the New Zealand series with injury. He averages over 50 in Ashes matches, and - as the most aggressive, eye-catching player across either side - is the one most likely to provide the fireworks. Either side of him are Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell. The former is a run-scoring machine, who averages a rather ridiculous 86.4 in the Ashes, while the latter is someone who Australia have targeted previously as a weak link (his batting average, around 48, drops to 32 in the Ashes) and they're likely to feel he and Jonny Bairstow, in after him at six, are the 'cheapest' wickets in England's top order.
As for Australia, much relies on their captain Michael Clarke, who has been one of the best batsmen in the world in two years since being made captain, averaging over 68 since being handed the extra responsibility. His role his even more vital given the uncertainty and inexperience around him, with places three, four and six likely to be filled by three from Ed Cowan, Phil Hughes, Usman Khawaja or, if selectors deem he has served his time and is match-ready, David Warner. All four of those average under 40 in Tests, and only Hughes has had a real crack in the Ashes - where he averages 17.
A position Australia will feel they can say they are very comfortable in, with veteran Brad Haddin more than able with both bat and gloves. There has been talk of Haddin batting at six, which is probably a place too high, but at seven he is capable of chipping in with useful runs, while he's very dependable behind the stumps and his experience will be vital. England, meanwhile, have arguably the best Test wicketkeeper-batsman around in Matt Prior, whose runs in recent innings have been invaluable, while his keeping is top class and, especially in light of the Pietersen saga, he has proved a key member of the dressing room. Interestingly, Haddin's average rises from 35 to 45 for the biggest cricketing series in the world, while Prior's goes the other way, dropping to 39.5 from just over 44.
Arguably England's biggest area of strength - certainly the one where they have most depth - and one that has enjoyed enormous success in recent times. James Anderson is the spearhead of the attack, while Stuart Broad is once again the man charged with bowling with the new ball from the other end. Anderson was devastating in the last Ashes series, where he was expected to struggle with the Kookabura ball, taking 24 wickets at an average of 26. Broad, meanwhile, did struggle - playing just two matches before being ruled out with injury, but is six-wicket haul at The Oval in 2009 lives long in the memory. Steven Finn is likely to get the third seam spot, and his pace and bounce can offer something different, but he'll also know he's under pressure from Tim Bresnan and Graham Onions.
For Australia, they'll be looking at Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson to open the bowling: two young, talented but inexperienced and at times wayward bowlers, neither of whom have played an Ashes test. Peter Siddle will be the other man in the attack, and while he may not be quite as gifted, he brings a real sense of grit, determination and fight to the bowling unit. Took 20 wickets at just over 30 last time he was over here in 2009, and will need to reproduce those results.
England have Graeme Swann back, having wrapped him up in cotton wool for the past couple of months due to a dodgy elbow, which means they are welcoming back the best spin bowler in Test cricket. He enjoys the big occasions and loves bowling to left-handers (against whom he averages 26, as opposed to 33 against right-handers), and Australia may well have four of them in their top order. By contrast, Australia are still struggling to move out of the increasingly-thin, botoxed shadow of Shane Warne. The man they've settled on, Nathan Lyon, has taken 76 wickets at an average of 33. He's a fairly solid option, but is unlikely to produce any moments such as Warne did in his first Ashes series 20 years ago.
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