The third installment of the Ashes ladder - and after the demolition of the West Indies England are imbued with a new-found confidence. So who's up and who's down from after the West Indies tour?
1) Andrew Strauss (-)
Rapidly making this ‘his side’, Strauss will have a point to prove after being overlooked for the captaincy and his subsequent struggles in 2006-07.
2) Alastair Cook (-)
Has finally ended his century drought and will be given the opportunity to improve on his poor previous series against the Aussies.
3) Kevin Pietersen (-)
There are justifiable concerns over his recent form and the state of his mind – witness him describing the thrashings his Bangalore side suffered as “fantastic” – but there should be nothing like an Ashes campaign to get him back to his best if he recovers from injury on time.
4) James Anderson (-)
Amazingly, he was left out of the side as recently as the first Test in the West Indies. But he is now England’s premier quick bowler, bowling with skill with new and old ball alike. His ability to move the ball both ways has some hoping he can emulate Simon Jones in 2005 in exposing Australian frailties against swing.
5) Stuart Broad (-)
Andrew Strauss says he now views Broad as an allrounder, and, even though he has too seldom run through Test sides to date, he can expect to open the bowling alongside Anderson. His working-over of Sarwan at Chester-le-Street spoke of a bowler coming of age at Test level.
6) Graeme Swann (+3)
Swann has been England’s great success story of the past six months, in particular against left-handers – crucial given that Australia may have as many as five in their top eight. Swann’s control has impressed, but he is clearly a more attacking option than Panesar too. Add in the ebullient batting and excellent slip-catching and England may just have uncovered quite a package.
7) Matt Prior (+1)
Doubts over his keeping linger – will they ever go? – but England’s desire to play five bowlers mean Prior’s position is assured. There is simply no other keeper who could come close to convincing at No.6, even if he currently averages less than 30 against non-West Indian opposition.
8 ) Andrew Flintoff (-1)
Since his return last summer, he has averaged just 24 with the bat, surely precluding him from batting at six. With the ball he has been parsimonious and wholehearted, though he has only claimed three wickets a Test. But England will want him batting at seven to allow them a five-man attack.
9) Ravi Bopara (+5)
Three centuries in three innings have ended the debate surrounding England’s No.3 – for now. Test runs, save against Bangladesh, do not come any easier than against the West Indies at home in May, but Bopara has seized his chance admirably. Expect Mitchell Johnson to test out the theory that he is vulnerable to the short ball.
10) Paul Collingwood (-4)
Since being “an absolute goner” against South Africa last summer, Collingwood has been in magnificent form, scoring four hundreds and a 96.
11) Monty Panesar (+1)
The one area in which England can confidently say they have the edge over Australia is in the spin department. The two Andys have spoken of liking the balance two spinners provided the attack in Trinidad, and there seems every chance England will employ two in Cardiff and the two London venues. Panesar has not improved his game sufficiently since his extraordinary Ashes debut, and his struggles for Northants are deeply worrying. But his home record – 80 wickets at 27 – is excellent.
12) Graeme Onions (N/E)
Responded to being left out of the Durham side last season by taking five for 38 on Test debut. With genuine pace and the ability to move the ball off the seam, Onions has some exciting attributes – but a series economy rate of 4.40 suggests he has issues with control.
13) Ryan Sidebottom (+2)
His call-up to the squad for the second Test, along with his inclusion in both England’s limited-overs squads, shows he remains in the selectors’ thoughts. His case could be aided by a feeling that Phillip Hughes may just have a weakness to left-armers bowling over the wicket.
14) Ian Bell (+7)
Seemingly now the first reserve after an impressive start to the domestic season, Bell would certainly have a point to prove if given a chance. If Flintoff were to get injured once more, England may use Bell at six, rather than risk batting Broad at seven.
15) Tim Bresnan (N/E)
His selection for the first two Tests and in the ODI squad shows he is highly regarded. However, would his bowling really threaten Australia in mid-summer?
16) Steve Harmison (-6)
After his hokey-cokey winter and an inauspicious start to the summer, few would be surprised if Harmison never played for England again. But if he can find fitness and form for Durham, there will be a temptation to give him one last chance.
17) Michael Vaughan (-6)
If only he batted as well as he talked. But, for all the doubts, is probably England’s third-choice opener.
18) Adil Rashid (-2)
Took wickets and scored 72 for the Lions against the West Indies. It does not bode well for him that England preferred Gareth Batty for the ODIs in the Caribbean, but, if Panesar continues to struggle, there will be a case for giving Rashid and his improving leg-spin a Test this summer.
19) Tim Ambrose (-2)
Very impressive in his one winter Test as a stand-in for Prior, Ambrose, barring a brilliant performance from James Foster in the World Twenty20, appears established as England’s No.2 keeper. But, as we learned last summer, he is not a Test match No.6.
20) Owais Shah (-7)
Intensity, cramp and a penchant for suicidal runs saw Shah endure a miserable three Tests in the West Indies. It looks unlikely he will play a Test again.
21) Sajid Mahmood (-2)
Has not played a Test since disappearing around Australia in 2006-07, but his pace and ability to reverse swing mean he has not disappeared completely off the radar.
22) Eoin Morgan (N/E)
His raw, uninhibited talent has been likened by many to that of his county college Phillip Hughes. If Morgan impresses for England in the limited-overs games prior to the Ashes, he may have a chance of featuring.
23) Rob Key (-1)
The England Lions skipper will view the World Twenty20 as a chance to further his ambitions for a Test recall, though he has not scored the volume of runs to merit one.
24) Matthew Hoggard (+1)
So many feel he was jettisoned unfairly (even if he averaged 40 from his last 13 Tests) and he will be dreaming of a Test on his home ground. But the selectors seem to feel he has lost his “nip” for good.
25) Mark Ramprakash (N/E)
The romantics’ choice. Averages 42 against Australia and still the most prized wicket in county cricket even in his 40th year.