England face Australia in the first Test of the five-match Ashes series starting at Edgbaston on Friday.
Australia are aiming to retain the urn, while England hope to win the Ashes for the first time since 2015.
These three key battles will help decide the series …
Broad vs Warner
As two of the most outspoken and combative players in recent Ashes history, England pace bowler Stuart Broad and Australia opener David Warner will be at the centre of the drama.
Broad taunted Australia in the build-up to the series by saying he regarded England’s 4-0 defeat “Down Under” in 2021-22 as a “void series” because of the strict Covid-19 restrictions in place for his team.
The 36-year-old, with 582 Test wickets, remains one of England’s key bowlers and will expect to back up his fighting talk with match-winning deeds.
Broad has dismissed Warner 14 times in 26 Tests, but the pugnacious batsman is desperate to end his poor form by frustrating England’s Ashes ambitions.
Like Broad, Warner is no stranger to Ashes controversy.
In 2013, he punched England’s Joe Root in the face in a Birmingham bar, later describing his behaviour as “inexcusable”.
Warner (36) was handed a year-long ban in 2018 for his role in a ball-tampering scandal related to a Test against South Africa but he has rebuilt his career and now has 25 Test centuries to his name.
However, he goes into the series with just one hundred in his past 34 Test innings as he prepares to lock horns with the bowler he regards as a “world-class competitor”.
Broad relishes the “great battle” with Warner just as much, admitting: “I’ve had to work really hard to expose any kind of chink in his armour because he’s been so dangerous.”
Australia ready for ‘Bazball’?
After 11 victories in their past 13 Tests, England will be confident their aggressive “Bazball” game plan can end Australia’s reign as Ashes holders.
England have been revitalised since Test captain Ben Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum demanded their side bat with a fearless, fast-scoring approach.
But Australia will not be easily intimidated after warming up for the Ashes by beating India convincingly in last week’s World Test Championship final on English soil at The Oval.
The visitors possess a quality pace attack featuring captain Pat Cummins, veteran Mitchell Starc and late bloomer Scott Boland, who tormented England with six wickets in 21 balls in the Melbourne Test in 2021.
Cummins’ battle-hardened side believe they have the weapons to subdue the England barrage.
“I said it initially when Bazball started that I’m intrigued to see how it goes against our bowlers,” said Australia batting star Steve Smith. “They’ve obviously done well against some other attacks, but they haven’t come up against us yet. So we’ll see.”
Spin can turn the tide
Thirty years after Shane Warne’s “ball of the century” set the tone for a further decade of Australian Ashes dominance, spin bowling remains a vital component for the tourists.
Off-spinner Nathan Lyon sits eighth on the list of all-time Test wicket takers with 487 dismissals.
The 35-year-old took five wickets in Australia’s WTC final victory against India.
While Lyon gives Australia an impressive slow-bowling option, England’s spin department has been thrown into disarray by Jack Leach’s injury.
Leach will miss the Ashes after suffering a lower-back stress fracture during the recent Test win against Ireland.
Despite retiring from Test cricket in 2021, Moeen Ali was hand-picked by England captain Ben Stokes to replace Leach.
The 35-year-old, who has an underwhelming record against Australia, took 195 Test wickets before opting to focus on the shorter forms of the game.
Persuading Moeen to return to the cauldron of the Ashes is a bold gamble by Stokes, who ignored the claims of youngsters Rehan Ahmed and Will Jacks.
Leg-spinner Rehan (18) took five wickets in the second innings of his Test debut as England beat Pakistan in December.
© Agence France-Presse