Investec Ashes 2013: 1st Test preview. England under the microscope.

Jimmy Anderson

Will Jimmy Anderson be the hero if England lose the toss? Will Bairstow be the villain if they win the toss?

The toss in Test matches has often been an important factor regardless of where the match takes place in the world. In India, spin is an important factor, whereas in England cloudy and damp conditions mostly favour the seamers earlier on.

At the first Investec Ashes test tomorrow at Trent Bridge however, the sun promises to betray the age old cliche of English wet weather. The sun is due to "shine bright" as Rihanna once sang, and the bowlers are likely to have a long hard graft in store, should their skipper lose the toss. Something Chris Read, Notinghamshire's captain highlighted earlier this week by stating that swing and seam movement may not have a major impact on the game.

With the importance of the toss in mind, it'd be interesting to see who will be England's key players to watch in both scenarios.

My Probable XI in batting order

Alastair Cook (capt), Joe Root, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior (wk), Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson.

Form Guide

With a fixture of this magnitude, it could be argued that form is not as relevant. The Ashes matches pile on back breaking pressure on each player to perform. This is an arena for the mentally tough cricketer to step forward. The players that have the temperament and have the self belief are likely to perform. Whilst it is important for a player's confidence to have scored runs in previous test matches or the team to have high morale coming into the series with a few wins under their belt, essentially it boils down to who's got the nerve and who's calmer under that pressure on the day. 


Key Player for England if they win the toss

Kevin Pietersen. Everything over the last few months has been leading up to this moment for KP. If Cook falls to Mitchell Starc with the new ball, (something that's possible given Chef's history against Left arm quicks) and should Trott become involved in a comical run out, KP will be the key man to dig England out of a hole. He's done consistently in the past with consummate ease, and no one will bet against him doing it again.

Weak Link

Johnny Bairstow. Test cricket takes time getting used to. I've written previously about the need to give youngsters a chance to prove themselves. At the same time, equally important is the decision on which player is given that chance. The policy of sticking with Bairstow for the Ashes is commendable, it's such a shame that it could be being wasted on the wrong player. Bairstow looked out of his depth at Test level in his first series against the West Indies, simply unable to deal with hostile short bowling. His performance against South Africa (albeit in a poor defeat) did give England fans a glimmer of hope, but that quickly fizzled out as a one off performance. His average in Test without that South Africa stands at 21, he's scored only 192 runs in 11 innings. His ODI and T20I records for England are worse. All of which means, he's like cheeky passenger in an otherwise extremely strong lineup. A complimentary ticket to the best gig in town. Yorkshire fans will be hoping he proves me wrong, so do I.

One that got away

Nick Compton. The England selectors dealt a severe blow to "Comp dog" by axing him from the Ashes squad. Despite the Sussex man scoring runs under pressure in the warm up matches, the selectors decided to promote Root up the order and select Bairstow ahead of him for a middle order slot. It's a decision they might find problematic if Root performs and Bairstow doesn't.  Bringing Compton back in that scenario might be a tricky conundrum.

Key players for England should they lose the toss

James Anderson. Graeme Swann's spin may become a telling factor later on in the game with a deteriorating pitch , but if England are to succeed in making crucial early breakthroughs then Jimmy's the main man. There isn't much to say that hasn't already been said about Jimmy Anderson. One of the best Test match seam bowlers in the world today, his experience and ability to swing the old or new ball is world class.

Weak Link

Stuart Broad. If England bowl first and there's no lateral movement off the seam or swing, Broad may find himself bowling at the perfect cannon fodder pace. The only reason Bresnan isn't my choice here is his ability to reverse swing the ball. How Broad's cortisone pumped shoulder holds up under the grueling heat also remains a worry.

One that got away

Steven Finn. If England do decide to go with Bresnan and his reverse swingers, Finn will miss out. Bresnan's inclusion on that basis is warranted and England Coach Andy Flower has faith in him, which is fair play. However I've written previously about Finn's record in Tests thus far and how he's a much better wicket taking bowler than Stuart Broad was after as many Tests. Finn has improved at a far quicker rate than Broad and will continue to get better, but only if he's picked. He's also the quickest of the England bowlers, and whilst not as economical as Broad, his ability to take wickets on dead pitches is higher. He'll be unlucky to miss out (if he does) on this occasion given the selector's religious faith in Stuart Broad.

Regardless of who's picked the entire nation will be keeping a close eye on their phones/tablets/Laptops/Television screens. Let the Ashes fun begin.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to leave comments below. Or why not tweet us @hitccricket.

Rana Malook is a sports writer for HITC. He tweets here