First Test, Trent Bridge: England v Pakistan
Dates: 29-July-2 August Start time: 1100 BST
Coverage: Live ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on BBC 5 live sports extra, BBC Radio 4 Long Wave and online; Live text commentary, daily reports and scorecard on BBC Sport website and mobiles; also live on Sky Sports
Graeme Swann (left) is key to Andrew Strauss's hopes of retaining the Ashes
When England's four-Test series against Pakistan starts at Trent Bridge on Thursday many fans will already have one eye on this winter's Ashes series down under.
But the tourists are likely to provide stiff opposition, having drawn the recent Test series against Australia in England 1-1 and featuring as they do a potent bowling attack and some exciting if unpredictable batsmen.
BBC Sport spoke to former England captain Alec Stewart and former England fast bowler Gus Fraser about England's selection process, their expectations for the series and any implications for this winter's Ashes series, which begins in November.
Former England captain Alec Stewart
First things first, let's not underestimate Pakistan. This will be a decent work-out for England, as demonstrated by Pakistan's defeat of Australia at Headingley. Call it a dress-rehearsal for the Ashes or whatever, it's a very important series in its own right.
In the ideal world most captains would like five bowlers, that's a given, but you can only play five bowlers if your number seven is a genuine all-rounder - and with respect to Tim Bresnan and Luke Wright, there isn't a genuine Test-class all-rounder presently in the England set-up.
If you haven't got the right people to balance out the side then you deal with what you've got available. Therefore you've got to play your best 11 players, which is six batters, four bowlers and Matt Prior with the gloves.
Eoin Morgan made his Test debut against Bangladesh in May
But there's no written rule that says they have to play four bowlers against Pakistan and four in Australia. The captain and the coach will always pick the XI they believe will win that particular Test match and therefore help win the series.
I don't worry about the lack of variety four bowlers gives Andrew Strauss, not at all. The four bowlers are very good bowlers capable of bowling anyone out and that's the important thing. Then if you need a few overs from your upper order you've got Paul Collingwood, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen to bowl eight to 10 overs in the day.
I know there were people calling for Ravi Bopara to be included against Pakistan but who does he come in for? You can only pick 11 players, so while Ravi's done everything that can be asked of him since he was left out, due to everyone else's success in the current XI he can't get back in. But he knows he's very close, especially with Ian Bell out injured.
And in the case of Ajmal Shahzad they've gone for the stronger bowler. In his short international career he's shown that he's got pace, control and variety and that's why he's made the XII at Tim Bresnan's expense.
It's nice the selectors can pick from a large squad of 16-18 players. In yesteryear you were almost picking nine players and then trying to find a couple who'd just had a good fortnight.
Pakistan are a very dangerous side, especially in the bowling department, but I think England will win it - I don't think Pakistan's batting will be strong enough to cope with the four bowlers who have been selected for this Test match. And then they will leave these shores for Australia in pretty confident, buoyant mood.
But they can't start thinking "this is just four Test matches before the bigger picture". This is a big series, there are people playing to make sure they stay in the XI and make the trip to Australia.
Then when they get to Australia it's completely different, you're playing against a side that's very proud and has a very good record playing at home and we're going to have to play very well to retain the Ashes. If we don't then Australia will come on strong against us and win the Ashes back.
Former England fast bowler Gus Fraser
Four bowlers instead of five? It's almost a policy decision rather than a personnel decision, as they don't have a top-class all-rounder in Andrew Flintoff any longer and the England selectors like having a deep batting line-up.
It's funny, as a bowler I liked being part of a four-man bowling attack because it meant I got plenty of bowling each session - in a five-man attack there might be sessions where you don't get a bowl and you feel like a bit of a spare part.
But looking on from the sidelines I've always preferred five bowlers because of the options it gives you. I think it's more attacking, too - you're backing your five batsmen and your wicketkeeper to get runs and then saying "we'll bowl you out for fewer runs than you bowled us out for".
I don't think picking four bowlers shows a lack of confidence in their batting - England have got a pretty decent batting line-up, with Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Jonathan Trott, Bell when he plays, Eoin Morgan coming in and Prior, who's a class act, batting at seven.
Mohammad Asif took 11 wickets in two Tests against Australia
It's just their view that they want to get big first-innings scores to allow them to control and dominate games and work on scoreboard pressure. But against better batting sides, often teams want to make sure their bowlers are fresh and that they've got a bit of variety, which the extra man gives you.
Graeme Swann's progress has made it easier to tolerate a four-man attack because they're pretty confident they can stick him on at one end and he's not going to concede many runs. And he's taken regular wickets too.
Tim Bresnan's out of the current plans but I'm sure he'll figure in this winter's Ashes. He batted well enough against Bangladesh at Lord's but he's struggled a bit with the ball. Meanwhile Ajmal Shahzad did quite well when he came in at Old Trafford, so I think it's fair enough he keeps his place.
Morgan didn't get a big score in the two Tests against Bangladesh but got a couple of starts and scored a wonderful hundred in a one-dayer against Australia. I think they want to find out whether he can deal with it or not - and I'm pretty confident he can.
Ravi Bopara's scoring lots of runs for Essex and it's a good position for England to be in - every team wants quality players in the background, vying for places, because it pushes the overall standard up.
England look a more settled team than Australia at the moment but it will be interesting to see how they do against Pakistan, they will be a good barometer.
Pakistan are pretty mercurial, you never know quite what you're going to get on any given day but when they get it right they're a wonderful side to watch.
Pakistan can be a bit hit and miss, Mohammad Aamer, Umar Gul and Mohammad Asif are good bowlers, and with Danish Kaneria behind them, that's a pretty good line-up. Asif is a beautiful bowler to watch and if there's anything in the pitch, he'll be a handful.
A winter down under is the highlight of any player's career, going on tour to Australia is what you all aim for, something very, very special. So, while at this moment in time the England players will be focusing on beating Pakistan, in the final two Tests minds will start turning towards Brisbane in November and the first Ashes Test.
A batsman who hasn't scored runs in the first couple of Tests or a bowler who's been wayward at times, they'll be feeling under pressure to make sure they do enough in the final two Tests to get on that plane.
Alec Stewart and Gus Fraser were talking to BBC Sport's Ben Dirs