What a difference a year makes. Eleven months ago, England were thrashed 4-0 in Australia after a disastrous Ashes series.
Mitchell Starc’s first ball of the series set the tone as he detonated Rory Burns’ stumps and England’s woes only deepened from then on.
If anything, the scoreline flattered the tourists but worse still was to come as England capitulated to lose a series in the West Indies in March.
England have won nine of the 10 Tests since Ben Stokes (right) took over as captain
It proved the epitaph of Joe Root’s captaincy and the dawn of the Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum’s era, which has since resuscitated English cricket and may have revolutionised, and indeed saved, Test cricket as format.
England have ended 2022 on a run of nine wins in 10 tests having previously won just once in 17 and have become the first team in history to win a series in Pakistan 3-0 on the back of the exhilarating batting displays that have become the norm since the summer.
Australia, meanwhile, have stuck to a more traditional approach during their series win in Pakistan last year and the demolition of the West Indies last month.
David Warner’s spot as Australia’s opener could be under threat after a dismal run of form
The 36-year-old ended a Test ton drought that stretched back to January 2020 with a sublime double-century against South Africa in the Boxing Day Test
In Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith, the Aussies have two of the top three ranked Test batters in the world and David Warner appears to have at least temporarily halted his a seemingly irreversible decline.
The 36-year-old scored a double century at the MCG against South Africa, ending a Test ton drought that stretched all the way back to January 2020.
It may be premature to suggest Warner, who averaged 21.64 this year before the Boxing Day Test, has saved his Test career but he has certainly silenced the critics at least until a four-Test series in India in February.
Both sides are broadly settled, but here Sportsmail takes a look at which players could force their way into their respective teams.
It’s now over three years since Archer rocked Steve Smith with a ferocious spell of fast bowling at Lord’s, but it may well be a different era given how rare the sight of him in an England shirt has been since.
In many ways, of course, it is a different era for English cricket and now Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes could have the 2019 World Cup hero available next summer.
Archer has been included in England’s ODI for the series against South Africa this winter and his Test cricket return should surely follow after two years of injury misery.
Jofra Archer hasn’t played a Test match in England since the summer of 2020
It is one of cricket’s few precious truisms that raw pace can disturb even the most settled of batters and the prospect of an attack featuring the speed of Archer and Mark Wood along with the subtle skills of Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ollie Robinson is mouth-watering.
The leg-spinner became England’s youngest Test cricketer when he made his debut in the third and final Test of the series against Pakistan in Karachi and announced himself in style.
The 18-year-old broke Pat Cummins’ record to become the youngest cricketer to take a five-fer on his Test debut, finishing with seven wickets in the game and there’s palpable enthusiasm around him.
But English cricket has notoriously endured a difficult relationship with leg-spinners, making Ahmed’s development a very delicate affair.
To that extent, it is no surprise he hasn’t been included in the Test squad for the series against New Zealand in February after McCullum warned he was ‘not the finished article’.
He could, however, be a significant wildcard up Stokes’ sleeve come the Ashes.
Rehan Ahmed became the youngest cricketer to take a five-fer on his Test debut last week
ENGLAND’S PREDICTED ASHES XI
Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ollie Pope, Joe Root, Harry Brook, Ben Stokes (c), Jonny Bairstow (wk), Mark Wood, Jofra Archer, Jimmy Anderson, Jack Leach
Ben Stokes’ teammate at Durham made his Test debut against New Zealand in June and finished the summer with 20 wickets at 28.
With the return to fitness of Robinson and Wood, England’s fast bowling cupboard is no longer as bare as it was six months ago but Potts remains very much in their plans.
The 24-year-old will be looking to build on his promising debut during the two-Test series in New Zealand in February in what should be seam-friendly conditions.
Stokes and McCullum aren’t afraid of rotating the team and Potts, who has taken 125 first class wickets at 25.15 apiece, could offer something different with the steep bounce he can generate.
Yes, it is over six years since Hameed made 82 on his Test debut in Rajkot against India and, yes, his last six Ashes innings returned a combined score of 28.
But as Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett have shown, the door is never closed on players for too long in the current England set-up.
Hameed racked up 1,235 runs, including four centuries, as Nottinghamshire returned to Division One in the County Championship last summer and made 145 for the England Lions in Abu Dhabi last month.
With Crawley still susceptible to seam movement and Keaton Jennings, who saw a lot of action as substitute fielder during the tour of Pakistan, averaging 17.72 in home Tests for England could the 25-year-old get another chance?
Haseeb Hameed’s last six Ashes innings returned a combined score of 28
England’s abundance of riches in the batting department could soon be matched by their fast bowling unit.
Stone’s inclusion in the squad for the two-Test series in New Zealand bodes well in that regard after the 29-year-old appears to have finally overcome his fitness issues.
Four stress fractures of his back limited Stone to just three Tests for England, in which he took 10 wickets at 19.40 apiece.
A fit-again Stone would provide England with a very useful back-up bowler and allow them to manage Wood and Archer.
Olly Stone has played just three Tests for England because of recurring injury problems
The next cab off the rank should David Warner be dropped ahead of the Ashes tour, Harris has long been part of Australia’s Test team.
The Victorian has racked up 288 runs in four Sheffield Shield matches at 41.14 this season and made 73 against the West Indies during the Prime Minister’s XI match at Canberra’s Manuka Oval.
He fared well in English conditions last summer, compiling 726 runs at 42.70 in nine first-class matches for Gloucestershire.
Conversely, his 25.29 average in 14 Test matches makes him the second-worst opener in Australian history from a statistical standpoint. At the same time, Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja have shown piling up the runs in domestic cricket can resurrect an international career.
Marcus Harris racked up 726 runs at 42.70 in nine first-class matches for Gloucestershire
Another former Test opener who has looked to revitalise his career in domestic cricket, Renshaw has been tipped for a recall into the Australia team for some time.
The 26-year-old made 81 and 101 not out during last month’s Prime Minister’s XI match against the West Indies and averages 51.66 in the Sheffield Shield for Queensland.
A Test debutant at just aged 20 years of age, he averaged 33.47 in 11 matches, including two half-centuries in India and a century at the SCG against Pakistan.
Matthew Renshaw averages 51.66 in the Sheffield Shield for Queensland this season
Brought into the Test squad as injury cover for the series against the West Indies earlier this winter, Morris could make his debut in the New Year’s Day Test in Sydney after Mitchell Starc dislocated his finger at the MCG.
The 24-year-old paceman made his Sheffield Shield debut last season, finishing with 20 wickets at 27 apiece as Western Australia won the competition for the first time since 1999.
And Morris has picked up where he left off this season, taking 27 wickets in nine innings at 18.40 apiece, which currently make him the Sheffield Shield top wicket-taker.
The Western Australia star removed Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne in the same over at the WACA and his raw pace has been generated enormous excitement in Australia.
The man nicknamed Wild Thing is seen as a natural replacement for Starc.
Lance Morris was included in Australia’s Test squad as an injury cover for the series against the West Indies and could make his debut against South Africa at the SCG
AUSTRALIA’S PREDICTED ASHES XI
David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cam Green, Alex Carey (wk) Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon
Arguably the most impressive candidate of a promising crop of spinners to have emerged in Australia over the last 18 months, Murphy has turned heads in the Sheffield Shield this season.
The Victorian off-spinner has taken 14 wickets at 17.71 in five innings this season, the second-best return for a spinner in the competition this season behind Western Australia’s Corey Rocchiccioli.
Murphy took three wickets for Australia’s Prime Minister XI against the West Indies and has earned praise from Nathan Lyon himself, a man who knows a thing or two about spin.
The 22-year-old has been earmarked as an understudy for Lyon and could be a surprise inclusion in the squad for the four-Test series against India, but an Ashes series in England on notoriously unfriendly pitches for spinners may come too soon for him.
Whiteman will be 31 by the time the Ashes series starts and is yet to make his Test debut for Australia, but his case is becoming increasingly hard to ignore.
The Western Australian has made 390 runs at 43.33 in six Sheffield Shield matches this season after plundering 641 runs at 58.27 in seven matches last season.
The Yorkshire-born batter could also fill in behind the stumps, which would give Australia the luxury of having a reserve wicket-keeper in the side.
Sam Whiteman has made 390 runs at 43.33 in six Sheffield Shield matches this season