Injuries, nightclub brawls, patchy form and a dangerous opposition - things are not looking good for #England who begin their bid to retain the Ashes in #Australia on November 23 in Brisbane. With uncertainty surrounding Ben Stokes' participation, and a new bowler falling down injured seemingly every week, few are giving England much chance of avoiding humiliation against a strong Australia side still smarting from a 2-3 defeat on English shores in 2015. Here, however, are five ways that England can lift the gloom and cause a surprise over the next few months.
1. Have a clear plan
Muddled thinking has been a scourge of touring England sides throughout history, with their most recent Ashes tour in 2013/14 perhaps as gruesome an example as any.
The tour was a shambles from start to finish, with the batsman demonstrating little skill or plan against the Australian pace barrage. The management, too, picked a battery of tall fast bowlers in the squad and did not play them together. An array of fading, ageing stars well past their best also gave a strong impression of a side living in the past.
England cannot allow a repeat this time around. The squad selected is about as good as England could have chosen under the circumstances - although it is a shame not to see either Jos Buttler or Liam Plunkett involved - and the next step is to decide early what the gameplan is going to be. Pick four fast bowlers to compensate for Stokes' absence? Is Mason Crane going to play? Will the batsmen look to attack or frustrate? Are Root and the bowlers on the same page?
This series is going to be tough enough as it is, and England must be clear about what they believe the correct approach will be and ensure they are confident in executing this under pressure.
2. Start well
This carries a dual meaning. Start well in Brisbane, get a good result and put Australia under pressure early in the series. In the victorious 2010/11 campaign, Andrew Strauss' side racked up a mammoth 517 for 1 in the second innings of the first Test which set the tone for a crushing 3-1 series win. If Root's side can bat well, take their catches and bowl with discipline at the Gabba, they can set a similarly confident tone this time around. Australia knows how effective a good start can be, as Mitchell Johnson's pre-lunch spell to Jonathan Trott on the second day of the 2013/14 series set the tone for a brutal attack on England's psyche.
In addition, start well in each Test. Win the first day. Too often in 2013/14 England squandered the initiative by allowing Brad Haddin to counter-attack. This time, if England has Australia on the ropes, they must seize the advantage. If they find Australia's middle-to-lower order exposed early, turn the screw and hunt the cheap dismissals.
If England's top order manages to set a platform, it is vital that at least two go on and make the match-defining scores that have been so desperately lacking in recent years. And this leads us neatly into point three.
3. Bat big
When England's batsmen get in and set, they have to go on. 50s and 60s will not win a Test in Australia. They must take the example of Alastair Cook, Michael Vaughan and Chris Broad in years gone by, and turn starts into centuries. Australia's key weapon in this series will be their formidable pace attack, so any opportunity England get to wear them down and put miles in their legs will prove vital. If they can rack up a couple of 400+ scores early in the series, it could make all the difference.
4. Be flexible in the field
With the ball in hand, England cannot be afraid to think on their feet. One of the criticisms in the later part of Cook's captaincy reign was that everything was rigidly planned beforehand and persisted with no matter what. Nowhere was this clearer than at home to Sri Lanka in 2014 when Angelo Mathews and Rangana Herath shared in a match-turning partnership. The likes of Steve Smith and David Warner are too good to be allowed to settle into a rhythm. England must have ideas at the back of the mind in the event that plan A does not work. Intuition and creativity will go a long way in this series.
5. Hold your catches
It sounds obvious, but it is massively important that England hold on to their chances across the five Tests. Their fielding standards have slid since the days of Strauss and Flower, and without Stokes, they especially need to take every chance. Australia will punish them if they are let off the hook. It is going to be difficult enough to take 20 wickets in each Test - more so if it takes 30/35 chances to do this. #The Ashes