Start is crucial in Ashes series

London: Former England captain Alec Stewart believes England will retain the Ashes if they can avoid defeat in the first Test at Brisbane.

England have lost three of their past four visits to Brisbane by large margins and Stewart, who suffered the heartbreak of three unsuccessful tours Down Under, knows the importance of starting well.

"The first Test in Brisbane is crucial for me," he said. "Australia have a very good record at the Gabba, they have stamped their authority over a series in that match many times before. I think if England can escape with a draw from that match, then I think they will keep the Ashes."

The veteran of 133 Tests also warned England of the importance of stamping their authority on the series from the outset - something they have failed to achieve in recent visits.

Steve Harmison memorably bowled a first-ball wide to first slip four years ago, while in 2002-03 Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden hit hundreds on an opening day that also saw Simon Jones suffer an horrific knee injury in the outfield.

"I think it`s not just that first day, but the first session that is crucial. England need to put a marker down," Stewart added.

"You think back over the years with Harmison`s first ball, and in 1994 when Michael Slater hit the first two balls for four. Australia set the tone early in those games, England were already on the back foot.

"England will be aware of that. They will know that first Test match is vitally important."

Bureau Report

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