The Ashes series – Test cricket’s ultimate showdown – gets underway at Edgbaston on Thursday, with bitter rivals England and Australia both desperate to get off to a flying start. 

20:00 (AEST), Thu 1st Aug @ Edgbaston, Birmingham

History: Played 346: Australia 144 V England 108 (94 Draws)

Last meeting: January 4-8, 2018: Australia d England by an innings and 123 runs at SCG

Final Thoughts: The Ashes are here and the 2019 England-hosted instalment promises to as tense and dramatic as ever.

Buoyed by their ODI World Cup triumph, England received a wake-up call in last week’s one-off Test against Ireland. They were bowled out for 85 in the first innings, before fighting back to claim a 143-run win.

England’s previous Test foray was a shock series loss in the West Indies, but they swamped India 4-1 at home last September.

Depleted Australia went down 2-1 in a historic series loss to India at home over the summer. But they responded with two emphatic wins over Sri Lanka.

The overriding storyline of this year’s Ashes series is the return of David Warner and Steve Smith from suspension. The superstar pair thrive in the biggest arenas and boast Ashes career records to make English fans’ eyes water.

Both sides have a number of potentially crucial selection calls to make. Australia are set to give Cameron Bancroft the nod to partner Warner at the top of the order, while James Pattinson has reportedly earned a recall with Mitchell Starc set to miss out. Matt Wade, Mitch Marsh, Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne are all vying for middle-order spots.

Usman Khawaja has recovered from injury to take his place at No.3.

England’s line-up is more settled. But there is a huge question mark over likely opening pair Rory Burns and Jason Roy, who made his Test debut against Ireland. Poor starts crippled England in Australia during a 4-1 loss in the 2017-18 series and has continued to be a problem since.

Captain Joe Root may make the move to No.3 in a huge call. But the presence of veteran pacemen James Anderson and Stuart Broad, plus top-shelf middle-order performers Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes, will provide England with plenty of confidence.

Home advantage

England have won five of the last eight Ashes series, including the last four on home soil. They prevailed 3-2 in 2015 and have won 10 of the last 20 home Tests against Australia, with six drawn.

England have won five of the last nine Edgbaston Tests against Australia, with two drawn. England won a bowler dominated Test (Warner’s second-innings 77 was the highest score) by eight wickets at the ground in 2015.

The touring nation has not won an Ashes series opener since Australia’s victory at Lord’s in 2005.

Australia head in to the first Test as $2.50 underdogs. But there are enough unanswered questions to be cautious about England as a $1.91 favourite.

Anointed as Australia’s pace spearhead, expect Pat Cummins to bring his scintillating home summer form to the Ashes and trouble England with the Duke’s ball.

Tip: Top Australia Bowler – Pat Cummins @ $3.60