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Stewart puts onus on strong start

Alec Stewart, England’s most capped Test player and a veteran of four Ashes series in Australia, has stressed the importance of the tourists starting well at the Gabba on Thursday.

The former England captain, who played in four series-opening Brisbane Ashes Tests, knows the tourists can ill afford a slow start in their defence of the urn.

Three years ago England relied on rearguard hundreds from Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott to save the opening game and Cook’s side will be keen not to find themselves up against it again.

“The first Test in Brisbane is crucial for me,” said Stewart, who never won an Ashes series among his 133 Test caps.

“Australia have a very good record at the Gabba. They have stamped their authority over a series in that match many times before.”

Stewart’s second Brisbane Test was memorable for Australia gaining an early advantage through Michael Slater’s boundary-laden 176 that set them towards a 184-run win.

Four years after Stewart’s last Ashes tour, Steven Harmison’s series-opening wide at the Gabba preceded England being whitewashed.

“I think it’s not just that first day, but the first session that is crucial. England need to put a marker down,” Stewart, now 50, added.

“You think back over the years with Harmison’s first ball and in 1994 when Michael Slater hit the first two balls for four. Australia set the tone early in those games; England were already on the back foot.

“England will be aware of that. They will know that first Test match is vitally important.”

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