England have won the World Cup but far from being done for the season, they now embark upon their other big challenge – regaining the Ashes. Before they come face to face with the Australian Test side, though, they have to deal with Ireland.
This match might be regarded as a warm-up for England but for the Irish, it will be a momentous occasion. They would be playing a Test at Lord's for the first time ever. Their players will have the opportunity to occupy the same dressing room and walk through the same long room that has hosted some of the greatest names in the game.
So, what to expect from this contest? Obviously England are expected to win but it won't be the result alone that everyone would take note of. There are several other questions that need to be answered regarding the two sides. Here is a look at 5 most important things to watch out for in this one-off Test.
England's opening conundrum
Ever since Andrew Strauss retired after the English summer of 2012, England have been struggling to find a replacement for him. Even before that search ended, Alastair Cook also retired from Test cricket. So, England are now searching for not one but two openers. In their last Test series, in West Indies, Rory Burns and Keaton Jennings occupied those positions. While the former still seems capable of becoming successful, Jennings looked hopeless in West Indies. With the Ashes Tests just one game away, England desperately need answers for the question of who could be a reliable opener. The selectors have decided to give an opportunity to Jason Roy and Joe Denly. Will the dashing ODI opener prove to be equally effective in the longer format? Or will Denly prove his credentials? Let's wait and watch!
Who'll be the English spinner in the Ashes?
Moeen Ali and Jack Leach are both in the squad for the Ireland Test. While Ali has been performing consistently for some time, including in the series against West Indies, Leach bowled brilliantly against Sri Lanka last year before getting injured. So, who will England opt for in the Ashes series? Though Moeen has been a capable batsman as well, he is not very dependable these days. It's quite possible that he will have to rely on his spin bowling to get into the playing XI. There, Leach will present a tough challenge. So, the performance of the spinner or spinners in this match will also be something to watch out for.
It goes without saying that James Anderson would be the key to England's success in the Ashes. But, unfortunately for the English team, the man with over 500 Test wickets had sustained an injury while playing for his county team, Lancashire. Selectors have picked him in the team for the Ireland series and are hoping that he would recover in time. The level of Anderson's fitness would be keenly watched by everyone.
Will Stone and Gregory shine?
England never have a dearth of good swing bowlers. But what they have been wanting for many years is a genuinely quick pacer. Olly Stone seems to be the one who can answer that question. In the county circuit, he has been regarded as among the fastest bowlers. England may just give him a chance in this match to show his skills. Lewis Gregory, on the other hand, is the typical English seam bowler who has got into the team thanks to his great run of form in the county game. With the likes of Chris Woakes and Sam Curran in the side, one wonders whether he will get an opportunity. If he does, let's see what happens.
Will Ireland rise to the occasion?
In their very first Test, Ireland showed great fight and at one stage, had Pakistan worrying a bit about their situation. In the end, they lost that Test but still suggested that, at home, they can be competitive. Their performance against Afghanistan in Asia wasn't anything to write home about. This is another opportunity for the new entrants to prove their worthiness. They have some quality players like Andy Balbirnie, Kevin O'Brian and Boyd Rankin. It's important for them to show fight, even if they don't win. Individual good performances would be hoped for as that will set the base for future success. Cricket fans would observe Ireland's performance closely.