Pat Cummins has warned an Australia side boasting some of “the all-time greats” will be tough to beat as England’s task became harder with Jimmy Anderson set to miss the first Test.
The home team head into the Ashes opener in Brisbane on Wednesday defending the hallowed urn and with their arch-rivals having a dismal record in Australia, losing nine of their last 10 Tests.
The hurdles Joe Root’s men must jump got even higher with reports that veteran spearhead Anderson – Test cricket’s most prolific fast bowler – will not play at the Gabba.
England have yet to confirm the 39-year-old’s absence, but Cummins seemed sure.
“He’s obviously a great player and it’s a shame that he won’t be out there tomorrow, but it doesn’t change what we are going to do,” said the Australia captain, who will be taking charge of his first Test.
Anderson’s apparent absence leaves England to choose four bowlers from Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Ollie Robinson, Stuart Broad and Jack Leach to play alongside returning all-rounder Ben Stokes.
They were already without pacemen Jofra Archer, who is not on the tour as he recovers from an elbow injury, and Olly Stone who missed out because of back surgery.
The news comes a day after England captain Joe Root refused to unveil his team despite Australia confirming their starting XI this past weekend.
Cummins, who took the reins when Tim Paine quit over a text-messaging scandal, nominated Root, the world’s No 1 Test batter, as the key wicket for Australia.
“He’s going to be right up there as the biggest wicket, he’s had a really good last 12 months or so, but I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s going to make it or break it for them,” he said.
Cummins did suggest England could struggle against an Australian side that includes superstar batters Steve Smith and David Warner and bowling giants Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon.
“I look around our team and we’ve got a pretty special side,” he said, although Australia haven’t played a Test since January due to Covid-19.
“We’ve got some of the greats of all time of Australian cricket in our changing room and, when you get most of them clicking, we’re going to be a pretty tough team to beat.
“We get along really well and have a lot of fun, so hopefully a tight-knit group. We are enjoying our cricket and we’re relentless when we have our chance to play,” he added.
England haven’t won a Test in Brisbane since 1986 and have only done so four times – twice in the 1930s, once against the Kerry Packer-weakened 1978-79 Australians and 35 years ago during Ian Botham’s heyday.
But Root insisted the first Test, where showers are forecast, would “not define” their Ashes campaign.
“Avoiding defeat would be a brilliant start to the series, absolutely,” he told BBC Sport. “In many respects we’ve got nothing to lose coming here for this series.
“Ultimately, we’ve just got to concentrate on what’s in front of us right now and starting the Test match well, getting into the series and managing everything else that goes around an Ashes first morning and taking the game from there.”
Australia XI: Marcus Harris, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins (c), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.
England 12-man squad: Joe Root (c), Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Haseeb Hameed, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.
© Agence France-Presse