No Stokes, no worries for England? We shall see when England, 1-0 up in a series for the first time since 2018, face Pakistan in the second Test at the Ageas Bowl without Ben Stokes, who has headed to New Zealand for family reasons.
In fairness to the hosts, they showed in winning the first Test that while Stokes is their "Mr Incredible", they have the depth for someone else to step up when needed. In this instance, two of them did it with immense style.
If Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler's 139-run stand for the sixth wicket with their side under huge pressure was not a captivating enough storyline, the personnel involved pushed the script into blockbuster territory. While Woakes' bowling was not in any question, he entered the series with a highest score of 37 not out from 17 previous innings and averaging 5.22 from his previous six Tests. With a century at Lord's and more than 1,000 Test runs to his name, there were few doubts he could do it; that he did so with an unbeaten 84 which helped England chase down 277, the second-highest successful fourth-innings run chase at Old Trafford, made his "Mr Dependable" tag seem inappropriately un-sexy.
Then there was Buttler who, in his own words, thought he might be playing his "last game" if he failed with the bat. Having had a stinker behind the stumps, his one-day-style 75 was pivotal in saving England and, surely, his place in the side.
Stokes had been picked for the first Test purely as a batsman, having failed to pull up sufficiently from a quad muscle strain to bowl in the first innings. But his 2 for 11, combined with Woakes' identical figures, restricted Pakistan to just 169 in their second innings. That Stokes was out for 0 and 7 showed that while England are all the stronger for having him - of the nine Tests England have played without Stokes since August 2016, they have won three (including one against Ireland) and lost five - they can hardly be accused of an over-reliance.
None of this will have been lost on Pakistan, who were left wondering how to counter an England side who had all the answers when they needed them. On the bright side, Shan Masood's wonderful first-innings 156 showed he is in excellent form. If they had converted starts like those by Babar Azam and Shadab Khan, England's task may have been insurmountable.
It is more likely, however, that the tourists will look to the bowlers for improvement or, more pointedly, Azhar Ali's use of his bowlers. Khan was used only sparingly and questions were raised over the decision not to bowl short at Woakes early on. While England may be without the world's leading allrounder this time, they may have proved themselves to be the better allround side.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Joe Root didn't give much away in his pre-match press conference except, emphatically, that James Anderson will play. Anderson, who turned 38 last month and is 10 Test wickets shy of claiming 600 for his career, said he was "hungry" after a "bad game" which yielded just one wicket in the first Test and prompted another round of reitrement rumours. So rather than resting Anderson, as they could easily have done, England will give him the opportunity the believe he has well and truly earned to put things right. "Wouldn't you give him the opportunity with almost 600 Test wickets under his belt?" asked Root. Anderson has repeatedly said he isn't motivated by the 600-wicket milestone, but he still has the desire to play on and keep improving. Pakistan's batsmen best beware.
Azhar Ali's captaincy became a focal point on what turned out to be the final day of the first Test. His decision to bat first earned a big tick when Masood produced a fine innings which ultimately gave his side a 107-run first-innings lead, but their inability to finish England off from 117 for 5 in the chase proved decisive.
With Khan only bowling 11.3 overs and not coming on until after the 50th over in each innings, it could be argued that he was under-used as the second legspinner alongside Yasir Shah. Persisting with Yasir round the wicket to Buttler in a prolonged attempt to draw an edge off a sweep when the pitch was inviting him to at least try him going over the wicket, and the failure to bowl short to Woakes and exploit a perceived weakness during that vital second innings both proved costly. Returns of 0 and 18 with the bat did nothing to ease the pressure on him.
England look set to choose between Mark Wood and Jofra Archer to accompany Anderson, Stuart Broad and Woakes, with Dom Bess set to play as the spinner. Ollie Robinson, the Sussex seamer who was named in England's 14-man squad for this match following Stokes' departure, could therefore remain on the sidelines. The main concern is Wood, who is recovering from "a knock" but is in contention after bowling at "high pace" in training. Zak Crawley is expected come in to bat at No. 3 with Root dropping back to his preferred position at No. 4 as England look to bolster their batting in Stokes' absence.
England (possible): 1 Rory Burns, 2 Dom Sibley, 3 Zak Crawley, 4 Joe Root (capt), 5 Ollie Pope, 6 Jos Butler (wk), 7 Chris Woakes, 8 Dom Bess, 9 Jofra Archer/Mark Wood, 10 Stuart Broad, 11 James Anderson
Pakistan face a choice about what to do with with Shadab Khan. His selection as an allrounder for the first Test instead of specialist batsman Fawad Alam raised eyebrows but he did make a valuable 45 off 76 balls in the first innings. If Alam plays, Pakistan risk weakening their attack by increasing the workload on the quicks. The other option might have been Faheem Ashraf, but he has been left out of their 16-man squad.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Shan Masood, 2 Abid Ali, 3 Azhar Ali (captain), 4 Babar Azam, 5 Asad Shafiq, 6 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 7 Shadab Khan/Fawad Alam, 8 Yasir Shah, 9 Shaheen Shah Afridi, 10 Mohammad Abbas, 11 Naseem Shah
Pitch and conditions
With a thunderstorm and 27 degrees forecast, Southampton residents, like much of southern England, will hope that Thursday signals the end of a week-long heatwave. Expected rain on Friday and Saturday and more storms possible after that doesn't bode well. At the time of writing, the Pakistan squad were yet to have a look at the pitch, while Root was reserving judgement until the morning of the match. It does tend to turn, however, at the Ageas Bowl - Moeen Ali has 17 wickets at 15.47 in his two Tests at the ground.
Stats and trivia
Pakistan's record in the second Test of a series in England since 2000: won 1, lost 4
In the four Tests at the Ageas Bowl, spinners average 30.27 (33 wkts), compared to 31.73 for seamers (94 wkts)
Babar Azam needs 76 to reach 2000 career Test runs
Shan Masood faced more balls from James Anderson (62, without being dismissed) in the previous Test than he had faced in six innings previously (57 balls, six dismissals)
"It doesn't matter who it is, but obviously for it to not be Ben on this occasion gives those two a huge amount of confidence."
Joe Root on Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler stepping up when Stokes isn't around
"It's been five months since we last played a Test. I don't think tiredness is an issue with the team."
Waqar Younis on whether Pakistan plan to rest one of their quicks