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Smith admits spots up for grabs as he prepares for Ashes challenge

Steve Smith has conceded the looming Ashes series will be his biggest challenge as Australian cricket captain.

The series will be Smith's first Ashes since succeeding Michael Clarke, and follows a series defeat and draw against India and Bangladesh respectively earlier this year.

In contrast England has won its most recent series against West Indies and South Africa, both at home.

The 28-year-old Smith averages more than 43 against the English, but admits this Ashes will be a different contest.

"No doubt. Ashes series are always big," he said.

"This is my first Ashes series as captain and it's going to be a good challenge for me."

Australia is still yet to settle on a likely line up for the first Test in Brisbane, with the number six spot under the biggest cloud.

"I think it's still open, there's still a great opportunity for some guys to go out and put their name up there," Smith said.

"First week of Shield cricket, pink ball, was pretty tough work for a lot of the batters and no-one really stood up, so it's a good opportunity for some guys again this week."

Smith impressed by Blues' bat Hughes

Several contenders for the spot will meet this weekend in the Sheffield Shield clash between New South Wales and Western Australia in Sydney.

Blues batsman Dan Hughes, and Warriors trio Shaun Marsh, Hilton Cartwright, and Marcus Stoinis are among those likely to press a claim.

Smith said Hughes in particular had been impressive in recent innings, while Marsh remained in line for a recall.

"He's a good player and he seems to be in form at the moment. If he scored runs this week against our good attack I'm sure that's putting his name up there," Smith said.

After 26 matches as captain, and a record of 13 wins, eight losses and five draws, Smith says he is still working on tempering his emotions on the field.

"I probably don't do myself any favours with my hand gestures and things like that," he said.

"I've got long arms and I think you see the way I fidget when I bat that it's just there.

"I've tried a few different techniques to keep my emotions in check and it's still something I am working on."

Root hopes England has mental strength to handle Australia

England begin their tour campaign in Perth this weekend, in a two day match against a WA XI mostly featuring youngsters and grade cricketers, plus WA pacemen Nathan Coulter-Nile, who continues to return to fitness after shoulder surgery.

Captain Joe Root said the match would provide a good opportunity for players to push their case for selection, ahead of two four day matches in Adelaide and Townsville.

Joe Root

"It's really important that the lads have that mental approach and attitude going into these fixtures," Root said.

"You've got to able to perform under this pressure if you want to perform in Ashes cricket."

The absence of vice-captain Ben Stokes remains an issue for England, with no replacement as yet for the touring side.

But Root, who has been at the helm for just seven Test matches, said he hoped that issue would be resolved in coming days.

And he dismissed pre-series talk about the last English tour of Australia, which ended in a five-nil rout to the home side.

"We're a completely different side and so are they," he said.

"We've played a lot of cricket since then.

"We've played against Australia since then and that went quite well for us. Hopefully we'll be able to do the same [this time]."

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