Jack Leach poised to start ahead of Stuart Broad with James Anderson ruled out of first Ashes Test

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Stuart Broad looks on during an England Ashes squad session at The Gabba - Chris Hyde/Getty Images
Stuart Broad looks on during an England Ashes squad session at The Gabba - Chris Hyde/Getty Images

England will leave out Stuart Broad for the first Ashes Test in Brisbane barring a late change of mind with Jack Leach winning the race for the final spot in the XI.

Broad will not play unless rain sweeps ahead of the first day's play and England decide the juiced up pitch requires five seamers or one of the other quicks goes down injured in the warm-up.

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The decision made by England to pick Leach over Broad will mean it is the first time they have not selected James Anderson and Broad in the same Test since Dhaka five years ago. It would also mean Broad has to wait for his 150th Test cap.

England confirmed that Anderson is being held back for the Adelaide Test and that Ollie Pope will bat at six with no place in the starting XI for Jonny Bairstow.

Leach has not played Test cricket since March but better weather is forecast for the last two days of the game and Brisbane traditionally a good place to bowl spin, as Joe Root acknowledged on Monday.

Fears had emerged that Anderson was struggling with injury, but England team-mate Jos Buttler dismissed that idea on the eve of the opening Test.

"Jimmy's not going to play but he is fit. It's just precautionary," Buttler said.

"It's obviously a very long series and we want a guy like that to be available to play as much of a part as possible. Jimmy's been bowling and bowling well - I faced him in the nets that's been a great challenge going into a Test match.

"It seems that age is just a number for Jimmy at the minute. He's in fantastic shape, his skills are brilliant as always and he still seems to be trying to improve and learn new things.

"That hunger doesn't seem to be wavering at all, he still gets just as grumpy if he bowls a bad ball and his competitiveness is incredibly high in anything he does, let alone on a cricket field. I certainly see him wanting to continue as long as he can and there doesn't feel like there's anything in the way of him doing that at the moment."

Changing of the new-ball guard is no surprise

The last time was in Dhaka, in October 2016, when Anderson was injured and England picked three spinners on a turning pitch. They have played 124 Tests together since they were picked in Wellington in 2008. But it is not a surprise England are considering taking a different course for this game. Broad is returning after a long lay off from an ankle injury and Anderson is being held back for the Adelaide pink ball Test.

Anderson is 39 and Broad 35 and both need bowling to build up their stamina for Test cricket but the wet start to England’s tour significantly limited their preparation time. It also a sign the mantle has passed from Broad to Ollie Robinson as first choice pick for the new ball. Robinson was the breakthrough star of the summer while Broad has taken just ten wickets this year in six Tests.

Anderson arrived on tour with a niggle in his calf that prevented him bowling for two weeks. He has fully recovered and bowled a long spell in the nets in Brisbane on Tuesday and on Monday but England want him fully fit for the two day-night matches.

Cricket Australia stripped Perth of the fifth Test on Monday and put the match out to tender on Tuesday to the other states but with the condition it has to be a floodlit game, which should play into Anderson's favour.

“Jimmy is fit to play, and is not carrying an injury. With five Tests in six weeks the plan was to get him ready for the second Test in Adelaide,” said an England spokesman.

“With the limited build-up we have had so far on the tour, both him and the management didn’t want to take the risk of him playing after what had happened in 2019 at Edgbaston, when he broke down on the first morning. He bowled at full capacity yesterday for just short of an hour and was in a good place physically.”

Bairstow is dropped after playing all four Tests against India last summer when, despite some good starts, he made only one half century and failed to make the big score that would have ensured a decent run in the team.

Pope played at the Oval when Bairstow took the gloves in place of Jos Buttler, who was on paternity leave, and scored 81.

But when Buttler returned for the Old Trafford Test England decided to stick with Bairstow over Pope, although the match was ultimately cancelled due to the Covid outbreak among the India backroom team.

Bairstow has struggled for touch and to adapt since he arrived in Australia from the Twenty20 World Cup, while Pope has benefitted from being here longer and the extra time to adjust. Bairstow was out first ball in the intra-squad warm up game last week.

Pope has long been tipped as an heir to Joe Root’s status as England’s best batsman but a combination of two severe shoulder injuries and lack of consistency have held him back. The true pitches in Australia should suit his game with less lateral movement and pace on the ball but he is sure to face a proper short ball examination for the first time with the Australia track certain to test his nerve with the bouncer.

'Crazy nonsense' - How Australia reacted to news of Anderson's omission

by Isabelle Westbury

The build-up towards any Ashes series is invariably a war of words between two nations trying to gain an advantage, any advantage, over things said and done before a ball is bowled. England’s seemingly last-minute decision not to play James Anderson in the first Test at Brisbane has played straight into that.

At first it was speculated that a calf injury had necessitated his exclusion. But England soon clarified that there was no injury; instead the limited build-up and heavy schedule invited caution when managing the workload of their 39-year-old premier seamer. Besides, they might have added that Anderson's record at Brisbane isn’t all that, anyway, when compared to his returns at other Australian Test venues. So, Anderson’s out, Mark Wood is in and the Australians are eyeing up any way they might land this as a defining moment in their favour.

“England rocked on eve of Ashes”, shouted one Australian headline. “A major blow,” triumphs another. “Extraordinary,” tweeted the Australian commentator, Mike Haysman, who couldn’t believe England might leave Anderson out “on a track that offers some assistance to the quicks. Think of it this way... Aust[ralia] would definitely rather not play against Anderson.”

Damien Martyn, the former top-order Australia batsman, labelled it “crazy nonsense” and “hard to believe”, echoing Haysman that the Australians would be far happier than not of Anderson’s absence.

Shane Warne chimed in, too, describing Anderson’s omission as a “huge loss”.

However, if the current players harboured a similar sentiment, they weren’t going to show it. “He's obviously a great player and it's a shame that he won't be out there tomorrow,” lamented Pat Cummins. “But it doesn’t change what we’re going to do,” he quickly added.

“I look around our team and we've got a pretty special side,” continued Cummins. “We’ve had our XI set for a couple of weeks now.”

Australia's Pat Cummins during a press conference at The Gabba, Brisbane - PA
Australia's Pat Cummins during a press conference at The Gabba, Brisbane - PA

Nathan Lyon, the veteran off-spinner who enters the Gabba Test one shy of 400 Test wickets, was similarly unperturbed. “No, not at all [surprised],” Lyon told the Australian Triple M radio show on Tuesday. “We kind of guessed that anyway. We obviously understand and recognise how big a player, a superstar of cricket, Jimmy is. And when you look at the pink ball [which will be used in the second Test at Adelaide] and how he bowled a couple of years ago out here with it, you see the effect that he had on the game. But no, I’m not surprised.”

Surprised, pleased, dismayed or anything else in between, the war of words have continued until the bitter end. What the truth is, we’re still not sure, but we’ll have a better idea once that first ball is bowled and the game, finally, gets underway.