BRISBANE: Bowling great Jimmy Anderson was on Tuesday left out of the England team for the first Ashes Test as Pat Cummins warned his Australian side boasting some of “the all-time greats” would be tough to beat.
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 task for Joe Root’s side was made harder on the eve of the Ashes when veteran Anderson — Test cricket’s most prolific fast bowler with 632 wickets — was not named in England’s 12-man match squad for the opening clash at the Gabba.
Anderson was not risked after reportedly suffering a minor calf problem, although England did not give any reason for his omission.
But wicket-keeper Jos Buttler told the BBC: “Jimmy’s not going to play but he is fit. It’s just precautionary.”
England are keen to manage the 39-year-old’s workload for what will be a gruelling five-match series, with the second Test starting in Adelaide in just nine days’ time.
That will be a pink-ball, day-night match with conditions expected to be more helpful to Anderson’s swing bowling.
His absence leaves England to choose four bowlers from Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Ollie Robinson, Stuart Broad and Jack Leach to form the attack alongside returning all-rounder Ben Stokes, who has barely played since July.
England were already without injured pacemen Jofra Archer, who is recovering from an elbow injury, and Olly Stone who has undergone back surgery.
A decision on whether to include spinner Leach or go for an all-seam attack will be made after a last look at the Gabba wicket before the toss on Wednesday morning.
Higher up the batting order, Haseeb Hameed won the race to open the innings with Rory Burns ahead of Zak Crawley, while Ollie Pope was preferred to Jonny Bairstow at number six.
“He [Anderson] 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 new Australian captain Cummins.
Cummins, who took the reins when Tim Paine quit over a text-messaging scandal, nominated Root, the world’s number one Test batsman, 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 Australia side that includes superstar batsmen 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.
“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 on Tuesday before the Anderson news was confirmed.
“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: Marcus Harris, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins (captain), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
ENGLAND: Joe Root (captain), Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Haseeb Hameed, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.
Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2021