Everything that England do this summer is geared to a November day in Brisbane. Whatever deeds are performed at Old Trafford this week and next, or at Trent Bridge, Edgbaston, the Oval or Lord's thereafter, will have in mind that Thursday morning at the Gabba when the Ashes will be at stake once more.
That is not to belittle the remaining Test against Bangladesh which begins on Friday, or the four that will eventually follow against Pakistan, starting in late July. It is simply the way of English cricket: the greatest prize of all remains the defeat of Australia in Australia.
Which is why, of course, the five matches left this season have an importance of their own. Lose them or win them haltingly, and confidence and optimism drain. It is Andy Flower's job as coach to achieve a difficult balance which is somehow designed to concentrate on the job in hand while anticipating the task ahead.
He was asked yesterday, because he is always asked, whether he yet had in mind his team for Brisbane. "We have an idea what the nucleus of the side will be of course because it's not that far away and it is going to come very quickly," he said.
"We are already well into our planning for the Ashes – we have been for a while in various ways – and there is always the challenge of planning properly while making sure we are covering all bases by the time we hit Australian shores, and balancing that with winning along the way. We will have that challenge all the way through the summer. We have an idea of a nucleus but there is a lot of county and international cricket, and outstanding performances over the next four months are important."
It is a significant blow to England's planning that Tim Bresnan will miss this week's Test match because of a stress fracture in his left foot. Bresnan was not at his best during England's eight-wicket win against Bangladesh in the first Test at Lord's. He seemed still to be in Twenty20 mode and the virtues of seam bowling in that form of the game are different from those in the longer version.
But those ready to decry him were overlooking the significant advances he has made as an international cricketer in the past few months. For the first time he has looked like someone who has not merely been ushered on to the stage but is ready to command it. One less than exemplary display at Lord's did not undermine that progress.
As Flower said: "He and I have discussed it at length and it is no mystery. But I will say this before I talk about it: Tim Bresnan has improved his cricket in all sorts of ways over the last 12 months and he was a very important part of our Twenty20 win out in the West Indies. He showed a lot of skill when he bowled and nous. He made very good decisions under pressure and I thought he was very calm. He has had a really positive effect on the England cricket side. He is also a great man to have around. He has a good sense of humour and is well loved in the side."
That last expression is crucial. Bresnan is a proper cricketer now, not a world beater perhaps but a genuine, big-hearted, accomplished all-rounder, and he may have an important part to play at Brisbane, batting at No 7 and as third seamer. He is not, as Lord's showed, a new-ball Test bowler. For now, he must have his foot treated, though Flower stressed, so to speak, that it had been discovered early and would be correspondingly easier to treat.
Bresnan's place in the squad has been taken, perhaps surprisingly, by Ryan Sidebottom, which thus renders as tosh the suggestion that his Test career might be done. When Sidebottom was overlooked for the opening Test in favour of younger men, it seemed as though the selectors might be tempted in future to bestow their favours elsewhere – but it is never wise to second guess the intentions of these selectors.
It is the only change in the squad and presumably Ajmal Shahzad, left out of the 12 at Lord's, will be in line to make his Test debut. Shahzad can also hold a bat, albeit in slightly unorthodox fashion – Flower compared his backlift to the unwieldy swing of the golfer Jim Furyk – and that might help to balance the side with Steve Finn and Jimmy Anderson already present. Anderson's batting has made strides but he is still a No 11 in No 10's clothing.
But though Shahzad has the potential to be a slippery customer, Flower is a fan of Sidebottom, and while it is difficult to work him into a side for Brisbane, that prospect cannot be eliminated.
Second Test squad
Old Trafford, starting Friday:
AJ Strauss (capt) 33/72
JM Anderson 27/47
IR Bell 28/56
AN Cook 25/55
ST Finn 21/3
EJG Morgan 23/1
KP Pietersen 29/61
MJ Prior (wkt) 28/30
A Shahzad 24/0
RJ Sidebottom 32/22
GP Swann 31/19
IJL Trott 29/8Reuse content