The Ashes: Australian ball-tamperers return for first Test match since scandal

The Ashes provides one of sport's most fierce - and oldest - rivalries when England face Australia in several days of cricket. But this year's event will have even more tension.

Not only will England have a chance to match Australia's win tally of 33 series, but Thursday at Edgbaston will see three disgraced batsmen return to Test cricket for the first time since being banned over a year ago.

The Ashes - a series of tests played between Australia and England roughly every two years - provides one of sport's most fierce rivalries and the benevolence displayed here between Joe Root (L) and Tim Paine (R) won't last long. Credit: PA

Although Australia has not yet confirmed its team, it is likely ex-captain Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft - who all admitted their part in a ball-tampering scandal against South Africa last year - will face England in the forthcoming Test.

For those three men, when Edgbaston fills up, there will be no escaping the rowdy reception provided by England fans.

But will the taunts unnerve the trio or inspire them?

The trio appear a lot happier than the last time most people saw them. Credit: PA

"It's got the potential to unsettle anyone, they're human beings, they've got feelings, they're no different to anyone else," Australia's new captain Tim Paine told reporters at a press conference.

He added: "What we've spoken about is that we believe it's going to go up a notch."

Despite fighting talk in which Paine claimed he "could name you 15" grounds more intimidating than Edgbaston, he insists he's softened Australian cricket culture since taking over as captain.

That's a claim England players are taking with a pinch of salt as they anticipate the usual hard-fought, antagonistic series.

"England, Australia games are always competitive, they're always great fun to play in and there's always a lot of passion and energy that's going around both teams," said Jonny Bairstow.

"Look, you can't lose your competitive streak and I don't think that's gone anywhere," he added.

Barstow is one of several English Test players who were part of the squad that recently defeated New Zealand to claim the Cricket World Cup 2019.

The Test team will be hoping to carry on the success of One Day International squad and insist they won't target 'the sandpaper three' any special treatment.

However, "Ashes history tells us," as ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott says, "that if an opportunity to gain a small advantage presents itself, it's usually grasped with both hands."