Cricket: England expect the unexpected from rain-sodden Gabba pitch

FILE PHOTO: Cricket - Australia v England - 2013/14 Commonwealth Bank Ashes Test Series First Test - The Gabba, Brisbane, Australia - 23/11/13. General view Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Jason O'Brien

SYDNEY (Reuters) - All-rounder Chris Woakes said England were preparing to play on a very different Gabba wicket in the first Ashes test next week after an unusually wet Brisbane spring left ground staff scrambling to prepare the surface.

After days preparing in indoor nets, the England players finally got to play outside on Brisbane's Ian Healy Oval on Thursday on what should have been the third day of a four-day intra-squad match.

A few miles away in the south of the city, Gabba head groundsman David Sandurski and his team were making the most of the break in the rain to get some preparatory work done before the wet weather descends again.

Woakes, who is hoping to play in his fourth Ashes series over the next couple of months, said an untypical surface could be a key factor in deciding the first of the five tests.

"It could be anything. We've played at the Gabba before and it's a pretty true wicket, relatively bouncy, typical Australian conditions," he told reporters.

"But obviously the past week hasn't been typical Australian conditions with the rain. I think we're just trying to keep our minds open and whichever team adapts early on will probably come out on top."

Woakes said that finally getting out to play on grass on Thursday was a big plus for the tourists.

"It is important, you can do as much indoor nets and net sessions as you want but actually middle practice is really important going into such a big series," he said.

"So it's been really good for us to get out today. It's obviously a bit squidgy out there with the amount of rain that's happened, but we're really pleased to be out there."

Woakes was named in the England Lions squad for Tuesday's runout but the 32-year-old did not think the return of fellow all-rounder Ben Stokes necessarily meant the end of his hopes of claiming a spot on the test team.

"I think we've played in the same team before," he added. "Look, Ben's a world class cricketer, gets into any XI in the world, it's great that he's back with us and hopefully he can find form in the series. But I think we can play together."

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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