Warner & Bancroft v Anderson & Broad
Blunting England's new-ball attack of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, the two-most prolific wicket-takers in their history, will be a critical battle in Australia's push to regain the urn. Broad and particularly Anderson are at their best when the ball is new and swinging. So should Australia's openers at least limit the damage up top, they will enable the middle-order to flourish against the older ball. The contrast of David Warner's aggression and debutant Cameron Bancroft's grit will provide a challenge for the England duo, but almost 900 Test wickets between them underlines their class, even in Australian conditions. Needing a top order to blunt the opposition's new-ball attack is hardly a new concept in Test cricket, but it will be particularly important this summer.
England's middle order v Nathan Lyon
After an inspirational year in Asia, Australia's star spinner returns to home conditions where the bouncier pitches and the number of left-handers in England’s top order are sure to suit his bowling. But with Australia fielding just four bowlers in their XI, Lyon will be required to send down plenty of overs to lessen the workload of the three main quicks. Former England skipper Nasser Hussain has already suggested the tourists should consider targeting the Aussie off-spinner, the theory being if they can hit Lyon out of the attack, captain Steve Smith will be forced to rely on his fast bowlers and their risk of fatigue and injury would increase. But actively taking on a bowler with 269 Test wickets and his confidence sky high is not without risk.
Australia's middle order v Moeen Ali
Similarly, Australia's middle order may look to take on the tourists' spinner Moeen Ali, whose bowling has been a trump card for England in the past 12 months. The off-spinner took 30 wickets in seven Tests during the northern summer, including a 10-wicket haul at Lord's and a hat-trick at The Oval, both against South Africa. But his record away from England - 46 wickets at 44 compared to 82 wickets at 33 on home turf - will give the Aussies confidence that they can take down the 30-year-old in what will be his first Ashes series in Australia. And if they're successful, England would have to rely on their four-right arm quicks with the old ball, an attack that has a slight sameness to it that could hurt the tourists. But Moeen, like Lyon, is a wily character so the Aussies will have to tread carefully if they want to take him on.
England's top order v Australia's fast bowlers
An inexperienced England batting line-up, Alastair Cook and Joe Root aside, appears to give Australia a significant edge on paper against the home side's pace trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins. But with the Aussies fielding only four bowlers, even just managing to survive for as long as possible against the pace assault would be considered a win for England's rookie batsmen. Forcing the pace trio to return for their third, fourth and fifth spells later in the innings will allow England's powerful and dangerous middle order to fire. But forcing the likes of Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali to come to the crease before 100 or 150 is on the board, and before the ball is too old, would likely significantly limit their effectiveness.
Australia's tail v England's tail
With the two teams evenly-matched on paper, runs from the lower order could make all the difference in this series. England's likely No.8 Chris Woakes has nine first-class centuries to his name, while Craig Overton's ability with the bat - he averages 22 in first-class cricket - could be the difference between him or Jake Ball getting a game as England's fourth quick. Australia will look to Mitchell Starc and Patrick Cummins for runs at the end of their innings and Starc's innings of 61 in a low-scoring match in Pune earlier this year underlined both his ability with the blade and how valuable lower-order runs can be. An extra 50 or so runs from the bowling group could make all the difference between winning and losing the urn.
2017-18 International Fixtures:
Magellan Ashes Series
First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets
Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets
Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets
Gillette T20 INTL Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 13
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21