The 2017 Ashes is just around the corner, with fans across the world waiting with bated breath for the greatest rivalry in cricket history to commence. There have been talks surrounding both the teams, who have been labelled the 'weakest' sides ever to represent their respective countries in the coveted series.
England have quite a few headaches in terms of team composition as Steven Finn and Jake Ball are nursing injuries, with the former being ruled out of the entire series. The participation of Ben Stokes is still in doubt, as the dashing all-rounder is yet to be cleared of assault charges. Australia, meanwhile, made a few surprising inclusions to their squad.
With plenty at stake, let us take a look at a few players who could surprise fans with their performances:
#5 Mark Stoneman
One of the newest entrants into the England batting setup, Stoneman was in fine form during the recently concluded warm-up fixtures against Cricket Australia XI, as he compiled two half-centuries and a fine 111 in the final fixture, repaying the faith placed in him by the selectors.
He made his debut against the Windies in August this year and his form could go a long way in deciding England's fate in this series. His opening partnership with Alastair Cook will lay the foundation for a big score and he will also be entrusted with the responsibility of seeing out the new ball. Stoneman would be raring to go against the Aussies as the biggest test of his career awaits.
#4 Tim Paine
In a highly-surprising move from the Australian selectors, Tim Paine has been selected for the first two Tests as the specialist wicketkeeper. Paine has not played in whites for seven years, with his last outing coming against the Indians way back in 2010.
Paine has been selected to don the gloves for Australia, ahead of the out-of-favour Matthew Wade and Peter Nevill. The 32-year-old was in reasonable form with the bat in recent outings, but did not keep for his state side Tasmania in the Sheffield Shield matches, playing just as a batsman.
This could be the biggest opportunity for Paine to truly cement his spot as Australia's No.1 gloveman.
#3 Cameron Bancroft
Cameron Bancroft shot into prominence courtesy exemplary performances with the bat in the Sheffield Shield where he plundered runs at will. He has been in sparkling form of late, and with opener Matt Renshaw axed from the side, Bancroft will make his Test debut at the Gabba, opening the batting for Australia alongside David Warner.
He will play as a pure batsman, with Tim Paine donning the gloves for the first two Tests. Bancroft notched up his 11th first-class ton in the latest round of Shield matches, and followed it up with a brilliant 228 in the next round. A dream debut awaits this talented youngster come Thursday.
#2 Craig Overton
Craig Overton could well be in line to debut for England at the Gabba, as injuries to Steven Finn and Jake Ball have pushed him up the pecking order. He performed well against Cricket Australia XI in England's 192-run victory in their second warm-up match, picking up four wickets.
His inclusion could beef up England's pace bowling stocks, as he would reduce the workload on their lead bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Standing at 6 ft 5 inches, the lanky pacer could extract uncomfortable bounce from the lively tracks, making life difficult for the batsmen.
#1 James Vince
Since making his debut last year, James Vince has flattered to deceive in the longest format, with a poor average of 19.37. However, he could not have asked for a better stage than the Ashes to prove his credentials at the vital number 3 spot.
Vince was in good form through the first two warm-up matches, although he would like to convert his starts into big scores. With England's middle order looking very shaky, the form of Vince could well decide their fortunes. Blessed with excellent technique and temperament, Vince could well earn a name for himself from this tour.