England prepare to pit hope against bullish expectation

And who’s to say, just like Pakistan on any given day – or like Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad on the final day of the Ireland Test last month – a combination of rich talent and faint desperation won’t propel this set of players to extraordinary and series-turning heights. There’s certainly little doubt that, pound for pound and irrespective of fatigue and motivation, a team containing world-class individuals such as Root, Archer, Ben Stokes and Jason Roy ought to be a match for any opponent.

But, just as Australia couldn’t be any more at home at Lord’s – moseying around the pavilion as if to the manor born, and with their kids performing cartwheels on the square as they saunter back from the nets – so it is England who most resemble a put-upon touring team.

One Test down out of five, and among their fast-bowling stocks, already Mark Wood, Olly Stone and James Anderson are sidelined, with only the latter a realistic chance of being fit before the end of the series. And while Joe Root’s promotion to No. 3 has applied a band-aid to their longstanding top-order flimsiness, the recent absence of Championship cricket makes the sourcing of battle-ready replacements as problematic as it would have been had the series been taking place Down Under.

“A big responsibility comes on the players, making sure that they look after themselves and keep themselves as fit as possible,” said Root. “Throughout the rest of this campaign, there are certain things which you can’t control and sometimes you get thrown a bad hand and you have to deal with it. And we’ve certainly responded well to that in the past when that’s happened. And we’ve got to make sure that we do exactly the same this time. We’ve got some very talented players and bowlers that are fully capable of taking 20 wickets this week.”

And yet, to riff on a recurring theme of the past month, England have already scaled their Everest for this summer, and in such glorious fashion too, on this very ground. Australia, by contrast, over-achieved in reaching the World Cup semi-finals, but only now are they really beginning to hit their stride. They’ve not won the Ashes in England for 18 years and counting, but much like England in the white-ball campaign just gone, they know they’ll rarely get a better chance to drive home their advantage.