|Venue: Trent Bridge Date: 4-8 August Time: 11:00 BST|
|Coverage: In-play highlights, Test Match Special commentary and text coverage on the BBC Sport website and app. Watch daily highlights on Today at the Test at 19:00 BST on BBC Two|
England must get back to winning ways in the Test series against India which starts on Wednesday - and they must do so without the heartbeat of their side.
Ben Stokes' decision to take an "indefinite break" from cricket as he prioritises his mental wellbeing is a courageous one.
I have spent a lot of time watching Stokes over the years - I have seen virtually every game he has played for England - and you can only marvel at the mental strength he has shown.
His innings in the 2019 World Cup final followed by his epic 135 not out in the Ashes against Australia at Headingley later that year are testament to how he performs under the greatest pressure imaginable.
Some people argue that having or admitting to mental health issues shows you are flaky or weak under pressure. Stokes destroys that argument - he is one of the toughest cricketers around.
No-one is immune and Stokes must take the time he needs. We all hope he can come back from it.
He is the man around whom the team revolves - whether it is his batting, his bowling, his slip catching or just his character on the field or in the dressing room.
Ultimately, other players have got to step up because England are a weaker side without their premier all-rounder. They cannot afford to lose this series.
- England v India - schedule
'This could define Root as a captain'
The next six months are huge for Joe Root as a captain. This week marks the start of a 10-Test run that could define his captaincy.
He has never won the Ashes. Under his leadership, England lost 4-0 in Australia in 2017-18, and a 2-2 draw at home in 2019 meant Australia retained the urn.
You go in cycles as a captain, and it might be that Root is coming towards the end of his.
England's 1-0 series defeat by New Zealand in June was their first at home since 2014. If they were to lose heavily to India and Australia, England would have to think about a change.
However, Root is a very positive person and will look at the next two series as an opportunity to do something special as a skipper and as a team.
Like it or not, winning the Ashes is how you stamp your mark as a captain.
You only need look at Michael Vaughan - he is still introduced as an Ashes-winning captain, 16 years after he achieved the feat. That is the tag that you will forever wear around your neck.
Root and coach Chris Silverwood have not been shy over the past year in saying that England's goal has always been the Ashes.
In my view, the best way they can get ready is by beating India.
'Neither team will be properly prepared'
England's prospects have not been helped by how little County Championship cricket has been played since they lost to New Zealand.
The balance of England's season is all over the place and I worry about how much emphasis has been placed on white-ball cricket in the past two months.
|Batsmen (balls faced)||Bowlers (overs bowled)|
|Rory Burns (179), Dom Sibley (271), Zak Vrawley (6), Joe Root (0), Dan Lawrence (0), Ollie Pope (0), Haseeb Hameed (541)||James Anderson (22), Stuart Broad (19.1), Ollie Robinson (36), Mark Wood (0), Craig Overton (12), Jack Leach (46.1), Dom Bess (72)|
|Jos Buttler (5-9 February), Jonny Bairstow (4-6 March) and Sam Curran (22-25 January) have not played any first-class cricket since taking a break after the Indian Premier League.|
Yet India have not played very much either.
They lost the World Test Championship final to New Zealand seven weeks ago, have played a solitary tour game against a county XI, and also felt the effects of Covid-19 with Rishabh Pant testing positive, then three players withdrawing from the squad.
Test cricket is the ultimate challenge and you have to be in the right frame of mind.
Clearly, neither team is going to be properly prepared and that is a shame for a series as big as this.
'Test careers are on the line'
I expect the limited preparations to affect the batsmen more than the bowlers, particularly as both sides have fine attacks.
England's top order, which is far from stable, faces a stern challenge from top-class seamers like Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav, not to mention the spin threat posed by Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
Given that Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon lie in wait for Australia, England cannot afford to have any question marks over their top six going into that first Ashes Test in Brisbane on 8 December.
I suspect England will start the India series with Rory Burns, Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley as their top three, but they cannot show that much loyalty in the face of continued failure.
Haseeb Hameed, whom by all accounts has improved greatly, is in the squad, and if Burns, Sibley or Crawley cannot get runs there will be quite an early change in personnel.
There is a lot at stake in these five games - people's Test careers are on the line.
Jonathan Agnew was speaking to BBC Sport's Callum Matthews.
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