With Ben Stokes in the team, England have a realistic chance of retaining the Ashes. If he is missing through suspension following his late-night altercation in Bristol, then there's more chance of the Brexit decision being reversed than of England clinging to the urn.
That's the dilemma facing the England hierarchy. If Stokes is convicted, they will have little choice but to seal his fate. The ECB will then be taking a decision it knows will almost certainly sentence the team to defeat. Nevertheless Stokes is innocent until proven guilty, so let's proceed with a breakdown of the two teams on the basis that he'll be in Australia, receiving endless taunts both on and off the field.
It's not only Stokes' skill with bat, ball and in the field that makes a difference to England but also his competitive aura. His match-winning capabilities drag his team-mates along with him, and because he's not overawed by an opponent, it helps to boost any England player who feels overmatched in Australia. He is a serious difference-maker.
England's batting, particularly the top order, has been an ongoing problem for some time. This has come about partly through misguided selection, which has, in turn, led to a badly balanced batting order.
A contributing factor to the jumbled order is Joe Root's reluctance to bat at three. Why he would rather go in at two for very little rather than one for not many is mystifying, but his reticence leads to an inferior player batting at three. This flaw is then exacerbated by batting Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali, two skilful batsmen, below players of lesser ability.
England could have got away with Root at No. 4 if opener Haseeb Hameed hadn't been injured, since Mark Stoneman could have adequately filled the No. 3 spot. Now it looks like the trouble spot will be handled by James Vince.
Vince is a good-looking player, but as I was eloquently advised as a youngster: "It's not what you look like, it's the number that goes next to your name on the scoreboard that matters." If Vince can turn aesthetics into accumulation, then England's line-up will be greatly enhanced.
Root should then be followed by Bairstow, Stokes and Ali, leaving room for an extra bowler or the inclusion of specialist wicketkeeper Ben Foakes.
That's a potentially stronger and better balanced line-up than any used during the English summer, but its success is still dependent on producing good starts.
Australia have similar problems with their batting in that they are heavily reliant on two players - David Warner and Steven Smith. However, the support line-up is more settled than England's, provided Usman Khawaja continues to deliver success at home from the No. 3 spot.
The pace bowling on both sides is strong but Australia possess more speed. Wisely harnessed, this is a great asset in Australia, as Mitchell Johnson amply displayed during England's last visit down under. If Australia's four leading proponents of pace, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and James Pattinson, can remain fit and in form for the duration of the series, they will defeat England with or without Stokes.
The spin bowling advantage lies with Australia, as Nathan Lyon is a superior offspin exponent to Ali, but both will complement the pace attack rather than play a dominant role.
England's other area of concern is their fielding. They spilt a lot of catches during their home summer and similar mistakes are more likely to be severely punished on Australia's batting friendly surfaces. Here again Stokes' absence will be a big setback, especially fielding at slip to Ali.
The upcoming Ashes series has the potential to be just what Test cricket desperately needs: a highly competitive and hard-fought contest. However, it will be severely diminished if Stokes is absent, meaning that Australia could virtually wrap up the series before a ball is even bowled, following a blow delivered by one of their fiercest opponents.