England’s goals at the start of the four-year cycle that ends in September were to win the World Cup on home soil and to continue the rebuilding of the Test side while remaining competitive in the senior format. Having accomplished the first part of the remit in thrilling style at Lord’s on Sunday, we turn to the oldest, most cherished and celebrated rivalry in Test cricket, the Ashes.
Only once before has a World Cup prefaced an Ashes series, back in 1975, when England again succumbed to the blistering pace of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, the class of Greg Chappell and typically nuggety batting elsewhere. David Steele became the unlikeliest of heroes that summer - how England could do with someone similarly adhesive against the red ball.
Has the World Cup put England on an unstoppable roll or will Australia, their ranks restored to full strength, defend the Ashes they won with almost scornful ease in 2017-18? We have five Tests to determine the answer to that and other questions ...
Are England expected to win the Ashes?
Having won the last four home series against Australia, England are firm favourites to regain the Ashes they lost Down Under in 2017-18. Only England have won an away series since 2001 while the other eight have gone to the home side. Australia were beaten here by the tightest of margins, 2-1, in 2005 and 2009 and on both occasions the destiny of the series was live going into the fourth day of the last Test.
More comprehensive home victories were achieved in 2013 and 2015 when, by virtue of the Duke ball, England’s skilful pace attack and Australian unease against swing and seam, James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Ben Stokes single-handedly won vital sessions to turn the tide in their favour. At Lord’s in 2013 Graem Swann made his last great contribution to spin England to victory. Ian Bell made three centuries in 2013, Joe Root two in 2015 but ball has dominated bat otherwise.
What are their biggest strengths as a Test side?
Pace bowling. In Anderson, Broad, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Chris Woakes, Ben Stokes and Sam Curran England have an embarrassment of riches and if they can hit the right length from the start, a perennial problem, would cause problems for every Test side. The only problem is perming four. Stokes will play, as will Anderson and presumably Archer, if he overcomes the side strain that forced him to ease back slightly but effectively in the last four matches of the World Cup. Broad is always portrayed as the most vulnerable but he has taken 437 Test wickets, 61 of them at home against Australia including five five-fors, while Woakes at Edgbaston at least must be considered.
Players hate rotation - Ashley Giles, Ed Smith, Trevor Bayliss and Root will have to be both ruthless and sympathetic to those who will be needed at certain but not all grounds.
...and their biggest weaknesses?
England have had a vulnerability at the top of the order since dropping Nick Compton for the first time on the eve of the 2013 Ashes and have an even greater problem since Alastair Cook’s retirement last summer. England’s record run-scorer averaged only 29.60 in 15 home Ashes Tests and was conspicuously in waning form until his glorious goodbye century in his final innings against India. He was still capable of contributing one mammoth innings per series but the consistency of his once-gluttonous accumulation expired in early 2016.
Keaton Jennings has proved himself a fine player in Asia but his stiff front leg is exposed elsewhere while Rory Burns, who has opened for the last six away Tests, averages merely 25. He will likely be given another chance to establish himself, probably in partnership with Jason Roy but if Joe Root simply refuses to reprise his World Cup-winning role at No 3 and they have to compromise with Joe Denly or James Vince, every innings will begin with the nation’s heart in its mouth.
How good are Australia?
We don’t know. The tourists have won three, drawn two and lost four Tests since Tim Paine was appointed captain to clean the Augean Stables following the bans imposed on Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft for ball-tampering at Newlands in March 2018. Warner and Smith are both world-class batsmen and will complement their strongest suit - the bowling attack comprising two venomously quick and skilful bowlers - Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc - a seamer precision engineered for English pitches - Josh Hazlewood - and the lord of overspin, Nathan Lyon, a constantly chirping partnership-breaker who suckers batsmen to their doom with drift, dip and skid off the deck.
Travis Head and Usman Khawaja stood up in the absence of the suspended players but England will fancy their attack to expose the footwork flaws of Australia’s middle-order even if Smith recaptures the form which propelled him to 12 centuries in two years as captain, nine of them, crucially, in the first innings.
Who will and won't play from the ODI team?
The success of this World Cup could nudge Root and the England selectors towards including a couple of the ODI players, not least because their Test resources are looking pretty thin in a couple of key areas.
The top of the order provides the biggest potential headache, with mainstay Cook gone and every one of the players to have partnered him in the last few years having underwhelmed.
That means Roy is likely to transfer over from the one day team to Test opener, joining Root, Bairstow, Buttler and Stokes as certainties in the team. Moeen Ali, Woakes and Wood will be in the Test squad but face a battle to secure a place in the team, while Archer's emergence could well see him thrust straight into the lineup for the first Test at Edgbaston. Adil Rashid is also likely to be in the squad as a back-up spinner.
Will their success affect the Ashes?
It is tempting to think that the newly crowned world champions will fly into the Ashes full of confidence and swat aside the Australia team they thrashed in the semi-finals for five Tests running. The reality though is that Australia will be more motivated than ever to knock England off their perch, and confidence can be sapped in cricket like no other sport. A few poor innings and hopes of a prosperous summer can swiftly dissipate... and no team does capitulations quite like England.
That said, England could scarcely have had better preparation for the upcoming Ashes series than a World Cup win. Tired legs will recover more quickly and the players will be excited about seeing each other again and spending more time together. Will Greenwood wrote in his Telegraph Sport column that the World Cup win will form an unbreakable bond between the players, and that can only be a positive heading into the Ashes. The middle of the pitch can feel a lonely place when surrounded by a team of Australians, so the support of a close team-mate with whom you have already shared success could prove invaluable.
Which places are up for grabs in the XI?
One of the opening batsmen slots is still uncertain, while Root's stubborn reluctance to move up the order to three - where he is desperately needed - means that position also remains open as things stand.
England have plenty of competition at wicketkeeper, with Bairstow pushing for the gloves behind the scenes. He is preferred to one-day keeper Buttler, but there remains the chance that Ben Foakes, so impressive on debut in Sri Lanka last autumn, is considered, too. His County Championship form has improved of late, with four half centuries in his last six matches for Surrey, but whether that is enough to force his way back into contention remains to be seen.
England's selectors also have some tough decisions to make in their bowling attack, with six seamers - Anderson, Archer, Woakes, Wood, Broad and Sam Curran - likely to be fighting for three spots. Anderson and Archer are - fitness permitting - probably first choice at present.
Who are some players who might be appearing in their last Ashes?
Although there has been no official confirmation, you can be pretty sure Anderson and Broad see this series as the final Ashes of their careers. The rest of the squad will probably have at least one more trip down under in them.
...and some younger names to look out for?
Archer and Sam Curran are the youngest players likely to have an impact on this series, while 23-year-old Dominic Sibley has batted his way into Ashes contention with an impressive first class season, averaging 64.5 over 19 innings so far.