The Ashes: Key contests in the battle for the urn

The time for talking is almost at an end, as Australia and England prepare to engage in the latest eagerly awaited showdown for The Ashes. Here, we look at the head-to-head battles that are likely to prove key in the tussle for the little urn.

In Steve Smith and Joe Root, Australia and England have two men that will look to lead by example with the bat. Smith has 5,370 Test runs at an average of just under 60. He made centuries in Perth and Sydney in the last home Ashes, but endured a mixed series in England two years ago. For Root, this is the biggest challenge in his infant captaincy. The Yorkshireman will feel he has a point to prove after being dropped for the Sydney finale of the previous tour, as England suffered an embarrassing whitewash. With 460 runs in the 2015 series, Root was comfortably England's highest scorer and, in the absence of influential all-rounder Ben Stokes, he will need to be heavily among the runs again. Photo: Getty Images
Starc's frightening pace has proved problematic for England in the past, and he has dismissed both Cook and Root on four occasions each in Tests. Only Stuart Broad took more wickets than Starc's 18 during an excellent individual series in England two years ago, and with Cook low on runs in tour matches, he may prove the key weapon for Australia. But Cook will be desperate to avenge the ignominy of captaining England during its humiliating 5-0 whitewash four years ago. England's opening batsman quandary has been well documented, but Cook – his country's leading run scorer – has been an irreplaceable cog in England's wheel and he will aim to set the standard with the bat. Photo: Getty Images
James Anderson is England's record Test wicket-taker and has proven himself as one of the most skilful bowlers in his country's history. A veteran of six Ashes series already, Anderson has the added responsibility of the vice-captaincy this series and his tussle with the big-hitting Warner is sure to be a fierce one. Anderson has dismissed Warner seven times in Tests, but the Aussie opener is a man that revels in the big occasions. Australia will look to the left-hander to set the tone and, as proved by his declaration that facing England is a "war", he will not shy from the task. Photo: Getty Images
The number three role looks set to be important for both teams and for very different reasons. Usman Khawaja has a stunning record in Tests in Australia, an overall average of 45.47 soaring up to 63.73 when played on home soil. That record is something Khawaja will look to exploit when the host aims to dig in and build partnerships against the skill of Anderson and Stuart Broad. James Vince appears the most likely candidate to fill England's tricky number three spot. Vince was a contentious selection in the tourist's squad, having scored just 212 runs, with a high score of 42, in seven Tests during a debut year in 2016. His tendency to edge, on Australian pitches noted for the high volume of wickets that fall caught behind, may be problematic for Root's men. A score of 82 in the opening tour match offered promise, but Vince has struggled for runs since. Photo: Getty Images