Three key match-ups that could decide the Ashes
The Ashes trophy is seen at the Gabba in Brisbane ahead of the opening Ashes Test cricket match against Australia. AFP
Root v Aussie bowlers
In-form Joe Root may have carried England in their summer home series against India, but playing in Australia against speedsters Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, and spin king Nathan Lyon, is a whole new ball game.
While the England skipper and world's number one batsman averages 50.15, it drops to 38.00 from nine Tests in Australia --- his worst performance away from home bar a miserable 24.50 over two Tests in Bangladesh.
Root's haul has been helped by six 50s, but he is still searching for a first elusive century in Australia, a statistic he is desperate to rectify.
To break the drought he must conquer Hazlewood, Cummins and Lyon -- who have all bagged his wicket seven times apiece, a feat no other bowler anywhere in the world has achieved.
Throw into the mix Mitchell Starc, who has claimed his scalp five times, and Root will need to be at his world-class best to weather the storm.
"As a senior batter in the side you want to be the one scoring the runs, you want to be the one making those big hundreds," he said recently.
"I have done that this year so far. But it's (Australia) the one place where I feel like I have underperformed and I've not got the best out of myself.
"So it's a great driver for me to go and do it this time round."
Broad v Warner
A feisty David Warner failed to fire in the Indian Premier League but regained his mojo in emphatic fashion at the recent Twenty20 World Cup, where he was named player of the tournament.
The swashbuckling opening batsman can never be written off, proving time and again that he has a knack of quickly taking the game away from the opposition.
England will be keen to get him out early -- which is where fast bowler Stuart Broad comes in.
In 23 matches involving both players, Broad has taken Warner’s wicket 12 times -– the most he has dismissed any Test batter in his career.
And while Warner has scored an incredible 18 centuries in 45 home Tests, he was taken apart by the 35-year-old in the 2019 Ashes in England, averaging just 9.50 in the five matches and falling to Broad seven times.
In Warner's favour, Broad hasn't bowled a ball since tearing his calf ahead of the Lord's Test against India in August. On the flip side, the 149-Test veteran is raring to go.
"I actually feel like I'm approaching the series mentally fresh and ready to hit the ground running," said Broad, who is looking to add to his 524 Test wickets in what could be his last Ashes tour.
"Both teams have strengths and weaknesses," he added. "And our job as the bowling unit is to stare at the Australian weaknesses."
Anderson v Smith
Ageless wonder Jimmy Anderson is on what is almost certainly his farewell Ashes tour. But despite pushing 40, he continues to deliver as England's number-one seamer.
Root will have to manage him carefully, but with Jofra Archer missing, Anderson is again a key weapon and has unfinished business. One man is particularly in his sights.
"As a bowler you always look at the best player, and for me over the last three, four or five years, Steve Smith's been Australia's best player," said the 166-Test master Anderson, who is arguably bowling with more control than ever.
"He's been their go-to in the last few years so he'll be the one that we will be keen to get out early."
Smith has been Australia's dangerman in each of the last two Ashes campaigns -- the 4-0 victory in Australia in 2017-18 when he smacked 687 runs at 137.40, and the 2-2 draw in England in 2019, when he blitzed 774 at 110.57.
Anderson was absent for virtually all of Smith's heroics in 2019, limping out of the series injured during the first Test at Edgbaston.
Now fit and injury-free, he is fired up to prevent Smith dominating once more.
"You've just got to be relentless and so accurate," Anderson said of bowling against Smith in enemy territory, as he seeks to build on his 632 Test wickets -- 104 of them against Australia.