London - Two of the world's best batsmen will be in
opposition when Australia's Steve Smith and England's Joe Root both lead their
countries for the first time in an Ashes Test at Brisbane on Thursday.
Smith may be an unorthodox run-scorer but he is currently
top of the Test batting rankings and Root, a more classical stylist, is second
in that table.
Shoring up a fallible top order is something both Smith,
with assistance from David Warner, and Root, backed up by a left-handed opener
of his own in Alastair Cook, have got used to in recent months.
If either star batsman struggles for runs, it is liable to
damage their team's prospects and add to the pressure that confronts most
captains in an Ashes series.
At 28, Smith is two years older than Root and the more
experienced captain, having led Australia in 26 Tests, whereas Root has just
come off his first home season as skipper. After series wins over South Africa
and the West Indies, the Ashes is the Yorkshireman's first overseas tour at the
Neither of the two captains is known for especially unusual
tactics, while they've each shown it is possible to play aggressive cricket
without resorting to over-the-top 'sledging', verbal abuse.
When Smith was recalled to the Australia side during the
2010-2011 Ashes series, he said: "I've been told that I've got to come
into the side and be fun."
That led to mocking taunts of "Tell us a joke,
Smithy" from England when he came out to bat.
He was dropped soon afterwards but fought his way back into
the Australia side during the 2013-2014 Ashes.
At this stage, Smith had only gone beyond 50 six times in 28
Test innings, and averaged 33. But the third Test at Perth saw Smith compile
his maiden Test hundred and he has not looked back since, with his ability to
improvise shots on the leg side now a familiar sight.
It took Smith just 99 innings to score 20 Test hundreds, an
achievement all the more impressive given he needed 23 knocks to get his first
"I probably didn't look back and reflect on much until
my 50th Test match at the SCG (Sydney Cricket Ground) (this January against
Pakistan) and after that game the team doctor, Peter Brukner, said I am one of
three players to have played 50 Tests and averaged 60," Smith told Wisden
Cricket Monthly magazine.
"Now with 20 hundreds, and hopefully a lot more cricket
in front of me, it would be nice to get up there."
Root once had a reputation for being "cheeky", but
that doesn't mean he has larked around as skipper.
In August, his declaration left the West Indies needing to
score 322 runs in just over a day to win the second Test at Root's Headingley
Thanks to a brilliant unbeaten century by Shai Hope, the
West Indies pulled off a remarkable win. If Root proved too reliant on James
Anderson and Stuart Broad come the last day, there was hardly any criticism of
his declaration when he made it.
Since then occasional off-spinner Root has had to deal with
losing vice-captain Ben Stokes after the all-rounder remained in England
following a late night fracas outside a Bristol nightclub.
Root has scored 1 059 runs in 10 Tests this year ahead of
the Ashes, including three hundreds.
He has arrived in Australia desperate to atone for a poor
first tour Down Under in 2013-2014, when England were thrashed 5-0 and Root was
dropped for the final Test.
"I think one thing for me (this time) will be making
sure the game is played at my pace, trying to be nice and calm and collected
out in the middle - and feel really ready for that aspect of Test cricket,
which you do experience here in Australia," said Root.