Our writers on the ground answer the pressing questions before the 2019 Ashes and make their predictions for the series
Where should Joe Root bat?
Melinda Farrell: It very much depends on how well those around him bat. At the moment, it feels like England are just playing Whack-A-Mole with their key batsman, trying to plug the holes in a fragile top order. It could be turning a strength into a weakness if he bats out of his favoured position and doesn't perform as well, but then, he has been coming in earlier anyway. Picking a position/mole, whacking him in and hoping he can stem the tide is hardly ideal, so if Rory Burns and Jason Roy can deal with the moving ball early in the series it could give England the confidence to let him bat where he wants.
Andrew McGlashan: In a perfect world, England would have found someone happy to bat No. 3 and take this issue away. But in the current situation Root has to go in at first drop - a top order of three of Burns (out of form), Roy (one Test) and Joe Denly (yet to convince) looked horrid. At least now he is in a position to influence an innings before it's 20 for 2 and Australia have their tail up.
George Dobell: Wherever he likes. England need his runs, and he needs to feel comfortable. If he says he feels comfortable at No. 3 then great, but I suspect he is compromising for the benefit of his team and would prefer to be at No. 4. He's compensating for the failures of the English system to develop decent top-order batsmen. Fiddling with positions isn't going to fix that.
Andrew Miller: It's all about balance, innit? Root wanted to be at No. 4, to avoid getting dragged into the bottomless well of despair that is England's top three. But in doing so, he found himself coming to the wicket at 2 for 2 in the second over anyway. Now that he's relented and moved to No.3, that might at least improve to 1 for 1 in the first. But, as one of only two non-Alastair Cook opening batsmen to have averaged more than 40 since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012, maybe he should go the whole hog and set the agenda from 0 for 0. (Especially as that other 40-plus opener is Jack Leach…)
Daniel Brettig: No. 3 is his best spot to balance the inexperience around him, unless England were to do something radical and move Ben Stokes up to first drop, allowing Root to retain No. 4. Where Jason Roy ends up batting by the end of the series will be another area to watch with interest.
Pick England's best bowling line-up
Farrell: Jimmy Anderson, Mark Wood (depends on availability), Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali. Except for the Lord's Test, where it would appear to be crazy to leave out Chris Woakes.
McGlashan: From the current squad, and on the proviso everyone is fit and there's no workload debate: James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali. It's damn tough on Chris Woakes, but Archer has the x-factor. And Woakes will be needed at some point. It's been a little surprising to hear the talk about Broad's position. For me, at home against Australia, he's a shoo-in. Overseas, well that's a bit different.
Dobell: Anderson, Archer, Wood, Stokes and Moeen.
Brettig: Anderson, Woakes, Archer, Sam Curran, Stokes, Moeen
Miller: Harmison, Hoggard, Flintoff, Jones, Giles.
This is Australia's best Ashes bowling unit since…
Brettig: The dawn of time. More seriously, since either 2001 (Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee, Shane Warne all near their best) or 1997 (McGrath Gillespie, Paul Reiffel, Warne).
Dobell: The last Ashes series. It's a super attack, but it's not as good as 2013-14 (Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson et al.) and it doesn't have a Warne or McGrath.
McGlashan: The last Ashes series, but so much depends on whether they can harness the Duke ball better than 2015. The only time since England started winning Ashes again, in 2005, that Australia struggled for an attack (certainly in terms of pace bowling) was really the 2010-11 series. And for all the talk of pace, Nathan Lyon is still key if it remains a four-man attack.
Farrell: The 2013-14 Ashes. Two members - Nathan Lyon and Peter Siddle - of that ruthless attack are doing the Ashes rounds again, but when they were spearheaded by the brilliant Ryan Harris and the brutal Mitchell Johnson at their peak and rounded off by Shane Watson in Australian conditions... well I'm sure you remember the result.
Miller: … 2001, which is coincidentally the last time they won the Ashes on English soil. With the legends Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne backed up by Jason Gillespie in his prime and a tyro Brett Lee, they only needed four bowlers to seal a 4-1 rout - remarkably Mark Waugh (13 overs) and Ricky Ponting (four) were the only other part-timers to turn their arms over in the course of five Tests. They've got even greater depth this time around.
How many runs will Steven Smith score this series?
Miller: Depends how flat the pitches turn out to be. In 2015 he was unstoppable at Lord's and The Oval, and couldn't get started elsewhere. I suspect it'll be north of 300, but 150 of those in a single, series-defining innings.
Brettig: 450, with a couple of huge scores and a few low ones as well. The key thing will be where in the series the big scores happen. He won't want to be leaving too much for The Oval, as he did in both 2013 and 2015.
Gnasher: More than 400. Although the transition back to Test cricket will be another challenge in his return, it could be quite significant that his two best innings at the World Cup came when Australia were in trouble against West Indies and England, the latter with the ball nibbling at Edgbaston.
Farrell: A lot. As long as he can maintain the bubble around him and keep out the inevitable hostile noise, the batting cyborg will not give up his wicket easily. Australia's chances could hinge on how well he and David Warner bat. Would be surprised if he makes fewer than 400 runs.
Dobell: It depends on how much the ball moves. But if he scores fewer than 300, Australia will be in trouble. I'd be surprised if he doesn't make more than 400.
Make like the Pidge and predict a) the series scoreline, b) top run-getter, c) top wicket-taker d) Man of the Series
Miller: a) 4-1 Australia. Well why not? I really don't think England are a very good Test team, and haven't been for several years. India would have turned them over last year had they put in the sort of groundwork that the Australians have been doing in recent weeks. Anderson and Broad can't be expected to carry the attack for yet another Ashes; Chris Woakes' knee won't last the course. Mark Wood's return will be too little too late. A lot depends on Jofra Archer, but are we really expecting him to deliver two miracles in his tyro season? (A: Yes, yes we are…)
b) Ben Stokes, if only because he'll be called upon twice in every Test, at 30 for 3, with Joe Root (and Jason Roy) already scalped by the new ball.
c) James Pattinson. He looks in the mood to make up for lost time.
d) Cameron Bancroft, for his plucky Langer-lite feats of top-order endurance in a bowler-dominated series.
McGlashan: a) Australia 3-2 - if they pick the right bowlers, just feel their attack will have the edge and exploit England's weak batting. Can't see any draws unless it rains.
b) Ben Stokes
c) Pat Cummins (also Man of the Series)
Dobell: a) I've really no idea. But I see Australia as favourites. England's top-order is fragile.
b) David Warner. He's very good and very hungry, and I think he'll take energy from spectators' animosity towards him.
c) Nathan Lyon. He's a good bowler, he's Australia's only spinner and, if they go into games with a four-man attack, he'll get through a lot of overs. I suspect England may try to hit him out of the attack, too. I see Josh Hazlewood as a key man, though. He could have the perfect game for these conditions if he's fully fit and firing.
d) Ben Stokes. A brilliant player at the peak of his powers and keen to make up for lost time. I was tempted to say Ben Foakes, though. Draw your own conclusions.
Farrell: a) 3-1. Take your pick as to who wins three and who wins one.
b) David Warner. We've already seen the signs during the World Cup that a year out of the national side has only made him a more thoughtful batsman, and he doesn't appear to be fazed by the crowd hostility.
c) Jimmy Anderson. This is surely his final Ashes hurrah, isn't it? As long as he's fully fit, he could expose any frailties.
d) Ben Stokes. He's having that kind of summer.
Brettig: a) 2-2, Australia retain Ashes. England, while not very accomplished at Test cricket lately, still have the conditions, the experience and the crowds in their favour. Australia, while having a highly impressive bowling attack to choose from, have brittleness in the batting that will not have been eradicated completely by a change of coach. After 18 years, they will be looking primarily to retain the urn.
b) David Warner, using a moderated tempo to finally make the big scores that have always eluded him in England.
c) Pat Cummins, who should benefit from greater economy at the other end to enjoy the "wickets in clumps" that other high-quality Australian operators such as Ryan Harris, McGrath and Terry Alderman have enjoyed in the past.