Australia haven’t lost a Test at the Gabba since late 1988 against the West Indies, but Michael Clarke’s lads haven’t got a result in their favour in nine Tests.
That includes the five in England a short few months ago of which three they lost of which three they lost – and three which they were in a position to win but didn’t due to light, rain or Stuart Broad’s incredible bowling performance in Durham.
The last time England were in Australia, it’s widely believed Alastair Cook’s innings at the Gabba which saved the match for the tourists and got them a draw was the breaking point for the Aussies, who went down 3-1.
Australia’s now staring down four straight Ashes series defeats, and the bookies are against them despite the home ground advantage.
To say there’s a bit at stake for the Aussies is probably an understatement. England are riding high on confidence and will take a draw here knowing their chances increase at every other venue except bouncy Perth.
The Gabba is probably the greatest Test cricket ground in the world in terms of what it offers everyone who takes the field. It has pace, bounce and sideways movement to bowlers who get it right, but if a batsman gets in and negotiates the tricky bits, it offers value for shots. Experts are saying it’s even quicker than Perth these days. It’s been pissing down in Brisbane but the grounds in Oz have every technology available to get a game on. However, the last Test there against the South Africans lost all of day two to rain and was a draw.
Chris Rogers: Numbers don’t justify his value as a sponge at the top of the innings, absorbing the new ball and Jimmy Anderson’s banana benders. Will have to occupy the crease for long periods for Australia.
David Warner: If Rogers provides stability while this bloke gets his eye in anything can happen. Hopefully his hot head doesn’t overrule his batting one and he can get some starts.
Shane Watson: If fully fit he’s a key, but with only 10 or so overs a day in him – so they say – he must make runs at the top of the order or there’s no point in him being there. Should be batting lower but likes the hard ball and the Kookaburra’s less lively than the Duke.
Michael Clarke (C): The key who has to stay fit. Has scored 916 runs at the Gabba in 11 innings, which is mental! His tactics will be important too. If the Johnson experiment doesn’t work he’ll be left with minimal options with a half-fit Watson and only an OK spinner to back up Harris and Siddle.
Steve Smith: Much improved and an eye on the future, everyone knows there are better batsmen out there than Smith, but his maturity in England and age gets him a callback. His leggies are useful partnership breakers but expensive.
George Bailey: A must-pick after his international record in ODI. Picking him based on white ball form isn’t totally sensible, but well worth a crack and his cool head in this position that is often leaned on in a batting crisis will be invaluable.
Brad Haddin (WK, VC): Experience is his greatest asset but he has to do better with the bat.
Mitchell Johnson: The X-factor or a biiiiig mistake. Purists want him sunning himself on a beach somewhere, but he appears to have remembered where the pitch is and has got his speed back. If he doesn’t cause the top order right-handers huge trouble in this Test, when all is in his favour, they should move on. But logic isn’t the selector’s strong point.
Peter Siddle: The work horse who can bowl to plans, fields and all freaking day powered by up to 20 bananas. The heart and soul of this team and a vital cog in containing runs when the ball is rubbish and taking wickets when others aren’t.
Ryan Harris: Australia’s best in England but big workloads if Johnson isn’t doing the job will see him break down. Fingers crossed this champion can stay fit for five Tests (schooner is well and truly half full in this hope).
Nathan Lyon: The best the Aussies have got and he’s Mr Trustworthy. KP and co will go after him, which should be to his advantage and if he doesn’t go for too many runs and gets through the overs, he’ll have done his job.
12th man: James Faulkner
Alastair Cook (C): Boring captain but has results to say it works. Aussie quicks had his number in England but last time Down Under he carved up.
Michael Carberry: Playing his second Test at 33 he’ll be considered an easy wicket for the Aussies. Many years in County cricket is a far cry from Tests in Oz but seems to have a cool head.
Jonathan Trott: Too good a player to keep his lean run going. Will look to occupy the crease and make the Aussie bowlers sweat, but gives a chance early on which the Aussies must take.
Kevin Pietersen: Super dangerous and loves the big stage going into his 100th Test. Shouldn’t be playing for England, but that’s a whole other story. A flat track bully who doesn’t like the ball when it’s moving, but if he gets a look at Lyon and an old ball, the Aussies are in strife.
Ian Bell: England’s best player by far who won the last series for them routinely coming in at three for 30-odd. Must neutralise this quiet-achieving ranga otherwise England will make massive scores and the series is gone.
Joe Root: Tail between his legs back down to six from opener, he’ll likely face second new balls so cop the same treatment anyway. Rough him up and knock him down will be the key. Johnson should have fun, but the little bugger can also score quickly if he survives, just like at Lord’s.
Matt Prior (WK, VC): The biggest yap in the England line-up leads the boys on the park and even conducts the Barmy Army. Hasn’t been in great nick with the bat and isn’t fully fit, but England’s other option – Jonny Bairstow – is so rubbish with the gloves they’re gonna risk their vice-captain.
Stuart Broad: Love to hate this guy and he should love bowling in Oz, as long as he pitches it up and doesn’t get too excited about the extra bounce. His batting isn’t really all-rounder worthy, but is very handy in a long tail.
Graeme Swann: Can contain and takes wickets with pressure rather than big rip. Gabba offers extra bounce so the guys in close will keep their hands warm. Has to stay fit as England’s depth here is also non-existent.
James Anderson: The best fast bowler in the world, as long as he has an overcast day and a Duke ball. HIs weapons are a little blunted here but class is class and when the pitches are nibbling and the ball is new he’ll still cause havoc.
Chris Tremlett: Hasn’t really lit the world on fire since coming back fit but was awesome in his three goes last time down under and more reliable than Steve Finn, the other option for the last seamer. If he drops short the Aussies will tear him apart, but he’s too smart for that.
12th man: Jonny Bairstow
On-field: Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena
Third: Marais Erasmus
* After much mucking about Hotspot, Snicko, guess work and crowd influence are all available to the umpires.
Images via Getty