Ashes tour diary: Usman Khawaja set for Sydney Test as Ashley Giles arrives in Australia

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Ashes tour diary: Usman Khawaja set for Sydney Test as Ashley Giles arrives in Australia
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  • Chris Silverwood
    English Test and county cricketer (born 1975)
  • Ashley Giles
    English Test and County cricketer (born 1973)

Status quo when it comes to the Ashes’ Covid situation. After Travis Head’s positive ruled him out of the Fourth Test, Australia’s players recorded no further cases of the virus after another round of testing. Good news, but they’ve been tested again.

England were tested on the first morning of the year and are awaiting their results. They have seven cases in the camp, while Head Coach Chris Silverwood is a close contact.

There is a real determination to get the Sydney Test on from Wednesday, despite the virus surging in New South Wales. Australia called up not one but three players after Head tested positive, but will have been massively relieved by Saturday’s negatives.

Usman’s return

While it seems a bit premature to worry too much about Australia’s team for the Test, Head’s loss is likely to be Usman Khawaja’s gain. He will play his first Test since the 2019 Ashes in Sydney, having shown strong early season form for Queensland. It was in Sydney, his home town, that he made his Test debut against England in 2011, then scored a magnificent century in 2018, too.

“I love Sydney, it’s obviously where I grew up. My family’s here, I’ve got a lot of friends and a lot of memories here,” he said. “The SCG, the home of cricket, if I do get an opportunity it’s always a very exciting place to play cricket, and it’s my old home.”

Seeing in the New Year

England saw in the New Year at a private function at Pier One, just by the Sydney Harbour Bridge, meaning they had a prime view of the fireworks. Not everyone went, as some were playing it safe with the virus or preparing for the departure of their families, but a good time appeared to be had by all.

Giles jets in

While some England families are making arrangements to get out of surging Sydney early, Ashley Giles has returned to Australia. He was with the squad in Gold Coast, Brisbane and Adelaide, before flying home for Christmas. He is back now to pick through the debris of another lost series. He has decisions to make over the future of Silverwood and Joe Root, but his own job is on the line, too.

Onto the next thing

The final two Ashes Tests are not England’s only assignment this month. Later in January, an entirely different group of players and staff, led by Paul Collingwood and Eoin Morgan, will take on the West Indies in five T20s in Barbados. In Jason Roy’s New Year social media post, he confirmed that he is “almost back to full fitness” after the nasty calf tear that ruled him out of the latter stages of the T20 World Cup.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Windies have named their squad for the series against England, and Ireland ODIs that precede it. They will be led by Kieron Pollard, but there is no Andre Russell or Chris Gayle, while Evin Lewis and Fabian Allen are among the players ruled out by Covid-19.

Pray for rain

The Sydney Test has become known for a few things in recent years: rarely being a live fixture (especially in the Ashes), the wonderful Jane McGrath Pink Day; and falling victim to January rain. There is a bit of concern that more rain is on the way, which will certainly hurt leggie Mitchell Swepson’s hopes of a debut as a second spinner.

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