The burning questions ahead of Australia’s tour of England

Australia’s 2-1 series loss in India started badly but finished on a respectable, if not successful, note. But there are plenty of questions ahead of the next frontier; an intriguing tour of England.

Who opens with Usman Khawaja, and will it be the same opener the whole way through?

David Warner now appears likely to open alongside Khawaja in the World Test Championship final against India at the Oval, but things get murkier from there. Head coach Andrew McDonald pointedly left out any reference to the Ashes in his backing of Warner as a Test player, and there is a view that facing India in the WTC finale may be an appropriate moment for Warner to say goodbye to Test cricket. Should that eventuate, Matt Renshaw and Cameron Bancroft appear the most likely suitors to walk out to bat with Khawaja in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston. Travis Head opened in India but is set to resume his role as a middle-order counter-puncher against the seaming Dukes ball.

How much longer will David Warner and Usman Khawaja get to open the batting for their country together?Credit:AP

How can Pat Cummins and Steve Smith improve their captaincy collaboration in the face of Bazball?

One of the great insights offered by Smith during his time as stand-in captain in India was that while plans can evolve fairly steadily in Australia, a whole other level of alacrity was required in spinning, south Asian conditions. In England, where the weather and pitch conditions can vary greatly over the course of a session, let alone five days, Cummins and Smith will need to find a happy middle ground that combines the former’s stability and the latter’s proactivity. This could be more true than ever as Australia tries to counter the fast-forward “Bazball” approach England has adopted of late at Test level. Particularly with the bat, that relentlessly attacking style will require the captain and vice captain to work in harmony.

Australia’s 2023 Test tour of England

  • June 7-11: ICC World Test Championship final – Australia v India – at The Oval
  • June 16-20: First Ashes Test, Edgbaston
  • June 28-July 2: Second Ashes Test, Lord’s
  • July 6-10: Third Ashes Test, Headingley
  • July 19-23: Fourth Ashes Test, Old Trafford
  • July 27-31: Fifth Ashes Test, The Oval

Is Smith capable of another performance like the 2019 Ashes?

As well as he led in the final two Tests, the India series was a major disappointment for Smith in terms of his influence with the willow. India were delighted not to concede even a single half-century to Smith across four matches; a vast contrast with his performances there in 2017.

Smith’s finest series anywhere else was the 2019 Ashes, when his feats with the bat were the most important factor in Australia retaining the urn. Smith’s technical and tactical work throughout 2022 freed him up as a player in Australia and led to some head-turning white-ball displays. But in terms of England, 33-year-old Smith has the job ahead of him to demonstrate that he can again dominate an Ashes series.

Steve Smith at the end of the 2019 Ashes series.Credit:Getty Images

Will Scott Boland play?

Boland has performed so well in the past two home seasons that the selectors will have to consider whether he is the ideal third, or even second, seamer to accompany Cummins. Josh Hazlewood is making his latest comeback from injury via the IPL, while Mitchell Starc has adapted his game admirably for Tests since he played only one of five Tests in England in 2019. That tour was notable for how the Victorian pair of James Pattinson and Peter Siddle were preferred to Hazlewood and Starc at times, importantly contributing to a big victory in the opening Test of the series at Edgbaston. This time around, Boland has an even more persuasive CV to recommend him.

Is Todd Murphy the reserve spinner or is he better off playing elsewhere?

A County deal with Durham will allow Murphy to keep his hands and shoulder warm early in the English season after an impressive display in his debut series in India.

Despite the impact Murphy made, there is no question Nathan Lyon remains the Australia’s lead spin bowler for Australian conditions. Lyon also excelled in India after a sluggish start and possesses a handsome record against England. One thing that may keep Murphy in the selectors’ minds is his capacity – demonstrated both in India and the Big Bash League – to subtly vary his bowling to combat unbridled aggression; the kind of aggression England is now known for.

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