More than anyone, Buttler epitomises the stand-off that England and Australia have endured in the run-in to this Ashes squad announcement. Of all the players who were uneasy about the quarantine restrictions in store, no one felt it more than England's vice-captain - an integral member of the T20 World Cup squad, and also the father of two young daughters, the second of whom was born last month. With the prospect of three months on the road, his apparent refusal to travel unless the players' families were factored into the plans was critical to a number of concessions being granted - even if a few "critical" details remain to be resolved. In a purely playing capacity, Buttler's recent Test form is not a lot to write home about. He has passed fifty once in 10 innings in 2021 so far, although when he made his return to the Test team in 2018, you suspect that England's Ashes tour was always the endgame. Rather like the absent Stokes, some characters are just the sort you need for the toughest assignments.
It's been a rocky road for Bess in the past year. His anguish in India in the spring was palpable, as he became a rather unfortunate fall guy for England's wider failings on spinning surfaces at Chennai and Ahmedabad - despite never looking at his best, he had fronted up with 17 wickets in England's three consecutive wins in Asia, after all, including a five-for at Galle in his first outing of the winter. He never came close to a recall this summer despite being included in a handful of squads later in the summer, but then neither did his former Somerset spin-twin Jack Leach, as England chose to field a seam-only attack for their first three Tests, until an abortive return for Moeen Ali against India. But now, with Moeen retired, Bess has an unlikely chance to reassert his status as England's No. 1 spinner - Australia is an unforgiving venue for such a comeback, particularly as a fingerspinner. But England admire his all-round package, including a compact and combative batting technique in the lower-middle order. In the absence of Stokes, Moeen, Sam Curran et al, the need for de facto allrounders may yet tip the scales in his favour.
Talking of anguish, you could see it in Root's features when he spoke to the media at the height of the Ashes impasse a fortnight ago. As England's captain, his desire to present a united front on behalf of his players was visibly at odds with his "desperation" to take his sensational batting form back to the most notable country in which he has yet to make a Test hundred, and set about making amends for England's 4-0 beating in 2017-18 - a tour which ended with him retiring with exhaustion during his final unbeaten half-century of the campaign in Sydney. At the age of 30, and with the World No. 1 batting ranking under his belt, Root travels as England's best prospect of upsetting the odds - and as the Barmy Army have helpfully pointed out, he does so with more Test runs this year than his opposite number Tim Paine has amassed in his entire career. There's nothing perfect about the circumstances of this tour, but for Root himself, this may be his greatest shot yet at Ashes glory.
For the second time in the pomp of his career, Stokes looks set to miss an Ashes tour of Australia, one of the ultimate highlights for any England cricketer. In 2017-18, his availability - or lack thereof - was the subject of an intense and destabilising period of speculation in the wake of his arrest outside a Bristol nightclub, and so England have nipped all doubt in the bud this time round with a very to-the-point statement that he is "not available for selection", given his ongoing break on mental health grounds. Nevertheless, after an apparently successful follow-up operation on his injured left finger, the ECB did state that he would undergo "intensive" rehabilitation "for the next four weeks" - an oddly specific timeframe given England's departure date in early November.
Eighteen months ago, Sibley looked like the coming man in England's Test ranks. At a time when Chris Silverwood, newly promoted to head coach, was re-emphasing the virtues of batting time and posting 400-run first-innings scores, his bloodless crease occupation was just the ticket for a team whose middle order was still pumped with post-World Cup adrenalin and were rather grateful for the chill he brought to their tempo. A gutsy maiden hundred in Cape Town helped turned the tide on a thrilling South Africa tour in January 2020, and six months later he added another against West Indies - again enabling his team to come back from a first Test loss. This summer, however, his strokelessness became his undoing - in particular his inability to rotate the strike and release the pressure on his batting partners. He was ditched after two Tests of the India series, and despite a return to form in Warwickshire's County Championship victory, he's not yet being trusted for a return. Zak Crawley, in particular, can be grateful for the perceived higher ceiling to his talent, after his year from hell with the bat.
Let's face it, it's the one name we all secretly thought might be in with a shout on this tour. Dawid Malan is back in favour, after all, having proven relatively successful on the 2017-18 tour with a century in Perth, but without having featured in Test cricket since the subsequent summer. Similarly, Vince has been lying in abeyance ever since that trip too - and who knows how different history might have been had he not been run out for 83 on the first day of the series at Brisbane? After an innings of such pure and unfettered strokeplay, you wonder if he might still be batting now but for that direct hit. His most recent Test innings was 76 against New Zealand at Christchurch four months later, and he played a walk-on part in the World Cup win since then too. But despite some flickers of destructive intent for Hampshire this summer, including a lacerating innings of 231 from 220 balls against Leicestershire, and a maiden international hundred in the ODI series against Pakistan, it seems that Vince's return, at the age of 30, would have been just a little bit too back to the future.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket