Ollie Pope will be thrown into the white heat of an Ashes debut at Jonny Bairstow’s expense when the series gets underway tonight, with Jos Buttler calling on England to rise to the challenge of the ultimate “bucket list tour”.
England take the field against Australia at the Gabba — where they have not won in 35 years — at midnight as they bid to win the Ashes for the first time under Joe Root’s captaincy.
Despite Australia naming their team on Sunday, England will wait for one last look at conditions at the toss. The pitch is green, but the weather forecast improving a little.
Leach is favourite to play, meaning it could be just the fourth time since 2007 that England have played a Test without Anderson and Broad, who has not played for four months due to a calf tear. At least one of them has played the last 37 Ashes matches.
The rest of the attack will be Chris Woakes, Ollie Robinson and Mark Wood, with Ben Stokes not expected to shoulder a heavy bowling burden as he plays his first Test since March.
Anderson is being primed for the Second Test at Adelaide, the first of two day-night matches in this series. England have taken him out of the line of fire at a venue where he averages 75, because of uncomfortable memories of the 2019 Ashes, when he limped off with a calf injury just four overs into the First Test.
In that match, Steve Smith made wonderful twin centuries that set Australia on the way to retaining the urn in England for the first time in 18 years, with Anderson playing no further part.
Pope, 23, gets the nod over Bairstow, 32, at No6, as England back promise over Ashes experience. Bairstow is on his third Ashes tour and has a century in Perth in 2017 to his credit, but has struggled in recent times, averaging just 21 in the last three years, with particular concerns against the straight ball.
He returned to the Test side against India in the summer, was involved in some important partnerships, but failed to kick on to a big score. Still, he looked in fine touch and was due to keep his place — ahead of Pope — for the postponed final Test of the summer at Old Trafford.
That status quo looked likely to remain in place for the First Test in Australia until last week’s two paltry days of practice in Brisbane. Pope only made 27 for the Lions, but Bairstow was dismissed twice for 11 runs the following day, and is said to have been outperformed by the younger man in the nets.
Pope is yet to live up to his abundant promise, but was impressive in South Africa two years ago and should have the game to suit Australian conditions.
Buttler will keep wicket, but Stokes’s return means he is no longer England’s vice-captain on what, oddly, is his first Ashes tour.
“Yeah, absolutely,” said Buttler, when asked if this was the ultimate test for an English cricketer. “Any English player to come and tour Australia in the Ashes is certainly on your bucket list.
“I remember coming here on a Lions tour in 2013 and I came to watch a few of the days here in Brisbane. When you see it up close you understand the intensity and hostility of this environment — and it’s a great shame for this particular tour that there won’t be the travelling Barmy Army support.
“As an individual, I am incredibly excited about the challenge. It’s going to be incredibly tough, but that’s kind of what you want to play the game for. I’ll throw myself into it as much as I can and I know I need to be near my best to be successful.”