If Australians weren’t already feeling confident of their chances in the up-coming Magellan Ashes series then they look set to be delighted when England announce their squad for the tour in London on Wednesday.
Everybody knows the threat the likes of captain Joe Root, Alastair Cook, Ben Stokes, James Anderson and Stuart Broad will pose to Steve Smith’s side during the forthcoming Australian summer.
But the mess that is England’s top-order batting appears to have scrambled the minds of the selectors so much that when they meet to pick their squad tomorrow they look primed to recall a batsman in James Vince who averages just 19.27 in Test cricket.
Vince was dropped at the end of the 2016 northern summer following an underwhelming run of seven Tests that saw him post a top score of 42 in 11 innings against Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
His form during this English summer for Hampshire is also underwhelming, Vince averaging just 34.82. So just why a player whose technical weakness outside off-stump was so brutally exposed at Test level is even in the conversation for selection for the Ashes remains a mystery.
However, it is the reluctance of England coach Trevor Bayliss to take a chance in Australia on players who have yet to play international cricket that appears the driver for this particular move.
It is also the reason why Gary Ballance also looks set to be recalled into the Ashes squad despite the Yorkshire captain’s own poor return to international cricket this northern summer. Ballance was far from convincing in scoring 85 runs at 21.25 in the two Tests he played against South Africa before a fractured finger ruled him out.
Unlike Vince, at least Ballance has four Test centuries to his name and his selection has some logic to it given he was never actually dropped from the team this northern summer.
Still, his inclusion in England’s squad, as well as that of Vince, will no doubt elicit a wry smile if not outright laughter from a large number of Australian cricket fans.
Of course, the reason the selectors have had to resort to such desperate measures is because the three big questions they had at the start of the northern summer have yet to be convincingly answered by any of the men they have gone with during the home series against South Africa and West Indies.
Keaton Jennings failed in that first series as an opener and was promptly dropped. Mark Stoneman, the man who came in for the West Indies series, has shown enough to start the Ashes at the top of the order alongside Alastair Cook but, with one half-century to his name so far, questions still remain over his suitability.
Ballance, as mentioned, did not do enough to make the No3 position his own and his injury probably saved him from being dropped. Tom Westley, who came in for Ballance, also struggled after an encouraging debut half-century against South Africa at The Oval.
The Essex batsman’s scores following that read 29, 9, 8, 3, 8, 8 and 44 not out.
But Westley may still make the Ashes squad if, as now appears likely, they name 17 players rather than 16.
It means England’s tour games in Perth, Adelaide and Townsville could develop into a three-way shootout between Ballance, Vince and Westley for the No3 spot at the Gabba.
Ballance and Vince might also be competing with Dawid Malan for a place at No.5 in England’s team – the final position which is also up in the air ahead of the squad’s departure for Australia on October 28.
Malan scored two half-centuries in the series against West Indies. That will be enough to get him on the plane but his place in the XI is far from certain, especially if he starts the tour badly.
Of the batsmen Australian fans might have expected to be in the selection shake-up for the Ashes, Alex Hales, now playing in the middle-order in red-ball cricket after 11 Tests as an opener, looks set to miss out on a recall. Haseeb Hameed, who as a teenager made a promising start to life as a Test opener in India late last year, has broken a finger and his form this season for Lancashire would have made him an unlikely candidate to tour anyway.
In terms of the bowlers, the injury to Toby Roland-Jones is a real blow for England. The Middlesex seamer has taken 17 wickets at under 20 in his first four Tests but the stress fracture to his lower back sustained playing for his county last week has ruled him out of the Ashes.
His place in the squad will go to either Jake Ball or Steven Finn.
Mark Wood will return from a heel injury for Durham this week but his fitness issues mean he is not certain to make the Ashes tour. England want to take him but there is a risk.
Still at least they know their first-choice pace bowling attack ahead of the first Test in Brisbane – Anderson, Broad, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes.
The same cannot be said of the batting.
2017-18 International Fixtures:
Magellan Ashes Series
First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets
Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets
ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets
Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets
T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 13
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21