The clash of the two captains will define this Ashes series and it will be fascinating to watch the duel between Joe Root and Pat Cummins.
It is so rare for the best batsman and best bowler to line up as rival captains. You always put yourself under pressure to outperform your opposite number in your own skill as a captain but it is always batsman versus batsman. This is a completely different scenario.
The one thing Joe and Pat have to be wary of is not building the first day up too much in their own minds. As captain, you make it so important that you forget to just play the game.
The first day of an Ashes series is a blur. You put on your blazer, go out for the toss and next thing you know it is all over. It is important to slow everything down, remind yourself it is only 22 yards of grass and you have to deliver your skills.
If it means Root, as a batsman, needs to take more time than normal, then fine. If it means that Cummins, as a bowler, just needs that extra second at the end of his run up to gather his thoughts then so be it. Don’t do anything for show.
Joe has the advantage of knowing what it feels like on the first morning of an Ashes, the excitement and slight sense of foreboding. But the one thing I would say to him is don’t desperately think you need a big score in the first Test. Yes you want it, but don’t worry if it does not happen in Brisbane. It might happen in the second or it could be the third Test before he makes that big score. Whatever happens it is important he stays true to his movements, game and approach from last summer. If he does that he will score runs. If he gets desperate too early, and puts pressure on himself, then it will run away from him.
Joe has to be positive. He has a great opportunity to nullify Cummins and set an example. He could take Cummins into his third or fourth spell. Joe, with his batting, can make Cummins question himself: when do I bowl, what end do I bowl from, am I bowling myself too much or not enough? It will be fascinating to see if Cummins relaxes into the job.
Because he is such a brilliant cricketer we forget that taking on the captaincy changes life for him. Walking into that dressing room as captain is different. You are not one of the lads aymore. You have to change. Everything you say and do is monitored by the rest of the team. Straight away if Cummins has an iffy first spell broadcasters and columnists will be saying it is because of the captaincy, he can’t bowl as well with the added pressure.
Root has been there before as captain. He knows what to expect. Australia is the one part of the world where he has not had a huge amount of success but he has done it everywhere else and knows he can perform as captain. Cummins does not know yet whether he can handle playing and leadership.
Cummins doesn’t know how he will feel on the first morning or what he will say to his team because you cannot really prepare for that first team talk.
He does have the advantage of knowing he got the better of Joe in the last Ashes series. He just seems to bowl the right length at him. Australia will not make the same mistake as India last summer who bowled shorter, allowing Joe to sit on his back foot. Surely, Australia will bowl a yard and a half fuller and bring him forward.