LONDON – Alastair Cook's England embark on their mission to rewrite Ashes history with few issues troubling them other than artificial ones schemed up by artful antipodeans.
Shane Warne's slingshots aside, the major decision Cook and the team director, Andy Flower, have is choosing their No6 batsman for the first Test in Brisbane.
Talk has been of Ben Stokes slotting in to provide a fifth bowling option, but the smarter money would be on another uncapped tourist, the Yorkshire batsman Gary Ballance.
Including a specialist would provide the team with greater rigidity and be in keeping with the successful formula applied on the 2010-11 tour.
The 23-year-old Ballance, a Zimbabwe-born alumnus of Harrow School, is an established favourite of national-selector-in-waiting James Whitaker.
He was the leading run-scorer in Division One of the County Championship this summer, ending with 1,251 at an average of 62.55. Yet his inclusion in the 17-man squad still raised eyebrows.
Such reflection draws disdain from his county coach, Jason Gillespie. "It has absolutely amazed me that Gary was seen as a shock selection," the former Australia fast bowler said.
"Frankly to look at it like that is ridiculous. With all due respect to Michael Carberry, he was a shock selection. Carberry is a fantastic cricketer, don't get me wrong, but this lad has bossed it in Division One – and he's played half his games at Headingley, where it's always nibbling about."
Gillespie added: "He adapts to situations and reads the game as well as any cricketer going around. That's his biggest strength. He has shown he can score all around the wicket on front foot and back foot, against seam and spin. For the last two years, he has won games, in all competitions, setting a target, chasing a target, what more do you want?
"If he does get an opportunity I think he'll take it with both hands and once in the team he might be there for a very long time. You only have to consider that immediately after being picked for the Ashes squad he went out on a spinning deck at Surrey and got back-to-back hundreds. That's the sort of character you're dealing with."
Regulars at Headingley would testify to the stocky left-hander's technical superiority over team-mate Jonny Bairstow, whose failure to make good a prolonged run in the Test team has created a window of opportunity for others. – The Guardian