England will name their Test squad to face Pakistan in UAE on Friday as they embark on the challenge of maintaining the No. 1 ranking. In 2011 they played eight Tests, winning six and drawing two, but in 2012 that number swells to 15 so the much-vaunted depth of England's resources will be tested again.
A mark of England's success in climbing the rankings has been how seamlessly players have slotted in when changes have been made through form or injury, Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan being the stand-out examples. The players who are currently outside a likely first-choice eleven are vital to the make-up of the squad. If the selectors follow the same pattern as for Australia they will favour those players ready to step up to Test level at a moment's notice rather than those with potential in the future. The England Lions trips of the subcontinent will allow those players on the fringe to play regular cricket in case reinforcements are required.
The key position is which spinner (or even spinners) accompanies Graeme Swann in the squad. There needs to be at least one option who, if the worst case scenario struck and Swann was ruled out of a match, could be the frontline spinner in a Test. Currently that man remains Monty Panesar who toured Australia as Swann's understudy but wasn't required. Last season he was the highest wicket-taker in Division One of the County Championship in 2011 with 69 victims at 27.24.
Scott Borthwick, the Durham legspinner, Hampshire's Danny Briggs and Simon Kerrigan from Lancashire, who took 9 for 51 against Hampshire last year, are the rising stars so it is shaping as now or never for Panesar, who has spent the last couple of months playing club cricket in Sydney, to resume his Test career.
Yet, whether Panesar makes the first eleven will depend on if Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower are willing to move away from the current balance of six batsmen, the keeper and four bowlers - albeit in conditions that haven't demanded a second spinner, or specialist fifth bowler - unless they opt for the risky strategy of two quicks and two spinners.
The prolific form of England's top five, Matt Prior's consistency in Test cricket, plus the developing allround skills of Bresnan and Stuart Broad, suggest England could cope with the shift in strategy but don't be surprised to see the balance remain the same. However, there is no doubt that at some point next year - whether in UAE, Sri Lanka or India - England will need two spinners in the same attack.
England's previous Test team, against India at The Oval in August, was without Jonathan Trott due to injury and Ravi Bopara was in the middle order. Trott, the ICC International Cricketer of the Year, will be back at No. 3 against Pakistan and Eoin Morgan will expect to retain his spot if he completes a successful recovery from the shoulder surgery that ruled him out of the one-day tour of India.
At the end of England's home season Bopara's stock had risen considerably after a successful one-day series against India, but the return contest on the subcontinent didn't see further development as he became one of a number of England batsmen to struggle against spin. The other options include promoting James Taylor or even taking Samit Patel to cover a number of bases with his spin bowling.
In the pace-bowling department there are plentiful options to choose from. The depth available is highlighted by Tremlett's situation. He began the year by helping seal the Ashes series then starred in the dramatic victory against Sri Lanka, at Cardiff, before bagging career-best figures of 6 for 48 at The Rose Bowl. Yet, so seamlessly did Bresnan replace him against India after injury struck that he was hardly missed.
Now, having lost his place to injury he will need someone to break down - or Bresnan to not recover from his elbow surgery - for a spot to open up. Then there's Steven Finn who was England's one bright spot during the one-day series in India. He bowled with pace and hostility having developed his game away from Test cricket and looked primed for another opportunity.
The final spot will be a reserve keeper and Steven Davies could fill the same role he did during the Ashes. That would mean only one change - Bopara for Paul Collingwood - from the original 16 that travelled to Australia last year. Davies hasn't featured for England since the one-day series in Australia, at the start of which he was omitted from the World Cup squad in favour of Prior. He scored 1035 runs at 39.80 in the County Championship for Surrey although another option could be Jonny Bairstow if the selectors want to have a look to the future.
Possible squad Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn, Ravi Bopara, Monty Panesar, Steven Davies