Will the Ashes prove to be a case of after the Lord Mayor’s show or the cherry on top of the most extraordinary cricketing summer in England?
Only two-and-a-half weeks after helping England to World Cup glory for the first time, Joe Root will lead out his charges for the first of five Tests at Edgbaston on August 1.
Here, PA looks at some of the pressing issues ahead of the showdown between the two old rivals.
Are the Ashes an afterthought?
In this so-called once-in-a-generation summer, five Ashes Tests will be crammed into the space of seven weeks, a necessary measure after the World Cup took up all of June and the first half of July. But England prevailing in the most dramatic circumstances to hoist aloft a first-ever global 50-over trophy has surely taken its toll on those who will be now expected to slot into the Test side and have a tilt at regaining the urn. There are whispers over the fitness of some but of equal significance is how equipped the multi-format stars are at getting themselves up for another high-intensity contest. Can they cast off what has gone before and retain their hunger and intensity?
The start of context to Test cricket
As if beating Australia and regaining the urn was not a sufficient bounty, the Ashes series will mark the beginning of the inaugural World Test Championship. Created to provide some context to a format many view as ailing, there are a maximum of 120 points on offer – the distribution being 24 for a Test win, 12 for a tie and eight for a draw. Over the next 18 months, England will also play Pakistan and the West Indies at home and South Africa, Sri Lanka and India away in series of varying lengths. The prize on offer for a top-two finish in the nine-team table – England will not play New Zealand or Bangladesh – is a place in the final, due to be held at Lord’s in June 2021.
Roy of the openers
All eyes will be on Jason Roy at Lord’s this week when he puts on Test whites for the first time against Ireland. Can he be just as effective with the red-ball as he is in the shorter formats with the white? One thing is for certain, Australia will not relish the thought of Roy in England’s Test set-up after being taken to the cleaners in their World Cup semi-final earlier this month. Mitchell Starc was treated with particular disdain by the fearless opener, who has made at least a half-century in nine of his last 12 one-day international innings and landed a clear psychological blow on Australia’s bowlers.
Any more new faces?
Keaton Jennings was left out of the squad to face Ireland as well as the Ashes training camp, having disappointed for Lancashire this season. Surrey’s Rory Burns should partner Roy with Kent’s Joe Denly in at three. Dom Sibley has been overlooked despite an impressive campaign but Warwickshire team-mate Olly Stone has been drafted in after recovering from a stress fracture of his back that precluded his involvement in the tour of the West Indies earlier this year. Fellow fast bowler Lewis Gregory is also in the Ireland and Ashes parties, having taken 44 wickets for Somerset this season at a scarcely-believable average of 13.88.
In the treatment room
Stone and Gregory add to England’s embarrassment of riches in the seam bowling department – but there are fitness doubts over some personnel. Mark Wood was ruled out for four to six weeks with a left side strain sustained in the World Cup final, a similar affliction also casting doubt on the availability of Jofra Archer, who is set for a period of rest before being considered for Ashes selection. James Anderson seems set to recover from a low grade muscle tear to his right calf, while Chris Woakes insists a chronic knee injury is “not an issue” and added: “I’m good to go for the Ashes.”