England's batsmen Joe Root and Chris Woakes (L) walk off undefeated at stumps against Australia on the fourth day of the second Ashes cricket Test match in Adelaide in December 5, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / William WEST / -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE -- (Photo credit should read WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)

Former Australian opener Simon Katich is predicting a "shootout" between Steve Smith and Joe Root is set to ignite across the upcoming Ashes series this summer.

The world-class pair have long been seen as direct counterparts, batting at No.4 and having previously shaken hands at the coin toss in the past during Smith's time as captain of Australia.

Both Root and Smith will be pivotal members of their respective squads for the must-win Ashes series, with the opening Test next Wednesday at the Gabba an early opening to secure bragging rights.

Root, along with his fellow England squad members, has been dealt a difficult lead up to the Ashes, with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic hindering their preparations ahead of their critical campaign.

England's captain Alastair Cook (L) and England's Joe Root (R) prepare to bat after Pakistan were 198 all out on the third day of the second Test cricket match between England and Pakistan at Old Trafford Cricket Ground in Manchester, northwest England, on July 24, 2016. / AFP / OLI SCARFF (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite the difficulties of the past 18 months, the 30-year-old has been amassed a stellar record at the crease, scoring the most runs at international Test level in 2021 with 1455 runs to his name, over 500 more than the next best.

A strong opening three Tests could see Root enter the history books, currently placed 333 runs behind Mohammad Yousuf's record 1788 runs in a calendar year, with that feat coming in 2006.

The Aussies will be hoping to combat any chance of Root moving further up that order and halting his impressive run of form.

For Katich, limiting the England captain is the looking factor in bringing down England's chances this summer.

“The big positive is that in the last 12 to 18 months, Joe Root has been magnificent,” Katich told SEN.

“He’s singlehandedly kept that English batting line-up together during some tough little periods, particularly against India recently in England.

England's Joe Root celebrates after scoring a half-century (50 runs) during the second day of the second Test cricket match between Bangladesh and England at the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium in Dhaka on October 29, 2016. /DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

“He’s been dominant and he’s been converting those starts. He’s always been a very consistent player, but he’s now really getting the big hundreds and setting England up when they need runs because the top order has been a bit of a revolving door.

“It will be interesting to see how their top order handles these conditions against our attack.

“I think Root is the big one... It’s going to be a shootout between he and Steve Smith. Their runs at the pivotal number four position is going to be crucial to both teams’ chances of getting big first innings totals.”

The Ashes are set to begin next Wednesday at the Gabba in Brisbane, before Tests in Adelaide and Melbourne round out the 2021 calendar year for both England and Australia.