The Ashes, the most keenly-contested battle in world cricket, gets under way between Australia and England in Brisbane on Wednesday night (UK time).
Here is some key information about the series and the pivotal battles to look out for:
Where can I watch it? Sky Television’s long hold over England’s winter tours is over, but if you’ve got BT Sport you can still see all the action. Play from the Gabba in Brisbane gets under way at midnight UK time with BT’s build-up beginning at 11pm. If you’re like me, and you’re planning to get to bed early, stock up on some sleep and wake up for the last session, you could bring your Ipad to bed and watch the action on the BT Sport App. For those whose employers wouldn’t appreciate them sitting bleary eyed at their desk all day, BT Sport have said a highlights programme will be available on their website and app from 7pm.
Who are the television commentators? Watching the Ashes without Sky’s long-serving David Gower, Mike Atherton, Ian Botham and David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd will take some getting used to. But BT’s line-up, fronted by Matt Smith, includes former England and Australia captains Michael Vaughan and Ricky Ponting, ex-England spinner Graeme Swann, and the excellent Alison Mitchell. The pick of the bunch could be the always entertaining Geoffrey Boycott.
What about radio? If anything, Test match cricket is better on the radio rather than television, courtesy of BBC’s famous Test match special commentary team. You won’t miss a ball if you tune in on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra. Jonathan Agnew will once again anchor the coverage with Boycott, Vaughan, Swann and Phil Tufnell in support.
Does every Test match start at midnight? No, the good news is that there is respite on the way for the second and third matches from Adelaide and Perth. The Adelaide Oval will host the inaugural Ashes day-night Test, meaning play gets under way at 3.30am UK time and lasting through to mid-morning in the UK. Perth, on the west coast of Australia, is a few hours behind the likes of Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney so play gets under way at 2.30am, meaning if you get up around 7am you could still see a decent part of the action.
Who should I put my money on? If you have been listening to the brash Australians talking, you would think they had been the dominant Ashes force in recent years. But, despite winning the last Ashes series down under 5-0, the Aussies have lost four of the last five Test series to England. Home advantage is pivotal though and if Australia get off to a winning start in Brisbane (they haven’t lost a Test here since the 1980s) England could be looking at another rout. Is there any chance of Ben Stokes appearing? England’s talismanic all-rounder is still back at home awaiting the outcome of a police investigation. Stokes was apparently interviewed by police again at the weekend, with a decision imminent on whether he will be charged. If he is charged, his Ashes hopes are over, but even if the Durham man is cleared, there is still the likelihood of internal punishment from the England and Wales Cricket Board. In short, don’t expect to see Ben down under any time soon.
What’s this about a swimming pool at the ground? Yes, hard as it is to believe, up to 150 fans at any one time can watch the action from a pool on the mid-wicket boundary. The feature was installed at the ground last year to attract more fans to Test match cricket.