The Ashes: England`s hopes stand at the gates of fortress Gabba

Reuters| Last Updated: Nov 20, 2013, 18:09 PM IST

Brisbane: England are in Australia seeking a fourth Ashes triumph in a row for the first time since the 1890s but they know that if they are to achieve their goal they probably need to get a result at the Gabba.

The Brisbane test is the traditional curtain raiser for Australia`s home international season and the hosts have only lost eight test matches played at the ground going in to the start of the 56th on Thursday.

Such is the difficulty of breaching the Gabba fortress, the hosts will start the match slight favourites with the bookmakers even though England dominated this year`s home Ashes series and Australia have lost seven of their last nine tests.

For touring skipper Alastair Cook, though, the prospect of trying to do what no England team has done since 1986 and win in Brisbane only adds to the motivation.

"This side has done that a number of times, when there`ve been specific challenges ahead of us, we`ve delivered," he told reporters on Wednesday.

"Whether we can do that this game will depend how well we play, but at the start of the series and at a ground where they have a lot of confidence, that would do us the world of good."

Those challenges include winning a test series in India, ending a three-quarter century drought with victory over the Australians at Lord`s and, of course, the first Ashes triumph Down Under in 24 years on their last visit in 2010.

Even then, though, they only managed a battling draw at the Gabba after Australian quick Peter Siddle took a hat-trick on the first morning and England were bowled out cheaply in their first innings.

Cook, whose second innings 235 not out helped save the match, said his team mates were nonetheless trying to draw on the memories of that 3-1 series triumph.

"There`s no reason to feel intimidated, a lot of players we have in this squad were here in 2010-11 so we`ve all got experience of winning in Australia and we`re trying to use that to the best of our ability," he added.

"We know how important this game was last time for setting up the series, Australia have obviously got a very good record here in Brisbane and it`s our job to try and change that."

England have concerns over the fitness of wicketkeeper Matt Prior but otherwise look to have settled on their side, with opener Michael Carberry set to make his Ashes debut, Joe Root dropping down to number six and Chris Tremlett taking the third spot in the pace bowling unit.


Australia have put great store on the settled nature of their team, particularly the batting line-up, with most of their players showing good form in domestic cricket and a one-day series in India.

They have gambled on sometimes erratic fast bowler Mitchell Johnson and uncapped batsman George Bailey but with Shane Watson fit to bat will almost certainly retain spinner Nathan Lyon and leave all-rounder James Faulkner in charge of the drinks.

Australia skipper Michael Clarke remains convinced that his team can beat England if they play at their absolute best.

"For us it`s about coming out and playing our best cricket in five test matches and hopefully the result will take care of itself," he said.

"I think we`re as well prepared as we can possibly be. I think the belief`s there and hopefully we`ll see that over the next five test matches."

Clarke`s vice captain Brad Haddin will start his 50th test on Thursday, while for England`s flamboyant and often controversial batsman Kevin Pietersen the match will be his 100th.

The introduction of the "real time snickometre" will no doubt provide another plethora of umpiring controversies to go with those from the first series this year, ratcheting up the atmosphere even higher.

England`s "Barmy Army" of vocal followers will certainly reprise their canon of songs deriding Johnson and may even have penned a ditty or two looking forward to a fourth successive Ashes triumph.

Their latter day Captain Cook, who knows what lies ahead over the next six weeks, is a little more cautious.

"It`s a little bit dangerous to (think about) that," he said.

"It`s a nice place to be in to be able to chase records and this side over the last few years have managed to do some very special things.

"(But) as always, the challenge of winning in Australia is a great challenge."