After West Indies, it will be Pakistan’s turn to continue the resumption of Test cricket as the action comes thick and fast in England.
The bio-secure bubble for the Test series between England and West Indies was a tough mental experience as Jason Holder had said, and with three more Tests happening in quick time, it will once again test the resolve of the visiting Pakistan team.
For England, after a brief rest, the core group of Test cricketers – who would have watched a completely different white-ball team in action in the past week (as late as Tuesday night, in fact) – will need to reset and go again. After a hectic series against the Caribbean side, it’s more of the same for Joe Root’s men with three Tests being played over 21 days.
The series kicks off in Manchester on Wednesday. The second Test starts at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton on August 13, with the third match taking place at the same venue from August 21.
The Tests are, once again, taking place behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Schedule for Test series between England vs Pakistan:
First Test: August 5-9, Manchester
Second Test: August 13-17, Southampton
Third Test: August 21-25, Southampton
In the ICC Test rankings, Pakistan are just one place above West Indies but widely expected to give a tougher fight to the hosts given the talent at their disposal. But Pakistan cricket rarely ever functions on a predictable scale, so one cannot quite be sure of what to expect in this new saliva-less world of cricket.
England vs Pakistan in Tests
It is also worth noting that Pakistan enjoy a good record in England, unlike most visiting countries. As per an ESPNCricinfo report: “Only Australia have won more series in England [since 1987], and Pakistan have won as many as India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh combined. And though they haven’t won a series since 1996, they have drawn their last two series.”
England vs Pakistan in Tests since 2000
|England in Pakistan Test Series||2000/01||England||1-0 (3)|
|Pakistan in England Test Series||2001||drawn||1-1 (2)|
|England in Pakistan Test Series||2005/06||Pakistan||2-0 (3)|
|Pakistan in England Test Series||2006||England||3-0 (4)|
|Pakistan in England Test Series||2010||England||3-1 (4)|
|Pakistan v England Test Series (in United Arab Emirates)||2011/12||Pakistan||3-0 (3)|
|Pakistan v England Test Series (in United Arab Emirates)||2015/16||Pakistan||2-0 (3)|
|Pakistan in England Test Series||2016||drawn||2-2 (4)|
|Pakistan in England Test Series||2018||drawn||1-1 (2)|
All said and done, this series promises to be a fascinating one on many counts and here are the reasons to look forward to the three-match rubber:
England pacer conundrum
What connects the players with these two sets of statistics in the series against West Indies? One, took 16 wickets at an average of 10.93 including a 10-wicket match haul. The other, bagged 11 wickets at 16.63, including a five-for.
Both Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes did not play the first Test in Southampton when England lost.
Root’s side rotated their frontline fast bowlers the 2-1 series win over the West Indies. Broad responded to being left out of the opener in sensational fashion, while Woakes underlined his impact as a seamer in helpful home conditions.
James Anderson is England’s leading wicket-taker, the raw pace of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood has swung matches in England’s favour in the past while Sam Curran has won every Test he has played in at home.
Wood and Curran were the unfortunate seamers to be left out of the decider at Old Trafford but they have been retained in the squad to face Pakistan at the same ground.
While expectedly rotating their main assets, England would be mindful of Pakistan’s ability to pull off an upset and would want to play the best options in the opener. With no decision yet on Ben Stokes’ bowling fitness, England might well be tempted to stick to Anderson-Broad-Woakes-Archer once again.
James Anderson closing in on 600
It is rather unlikely Anderson will play all three Tests of this series once again, so it will be interesting to see if he goes all out to claim the 600th Test wicket in the matches that he does play. With Broad’s milestone achieved against West Indies, all eyes will now be on the most prolific Test pacer in history to see if he can become the first ever to reach the club that only houses Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble now.
Anderson looked at his threatening best in phases against West Indies but could only manage five wickets in the two matches he played. He is 11 short of the 600-mark and will need to be at his absolute best to reach there. Given the uncertainties surrounding the longest format in the short-term future, this series might just be Anderson’s best bet to get there.
A new challenge for England batsmen
From the top down, England batsman largely enjoyed a good series against West Indies after the disappointment in Southampton. The openers are in good nick, Joe Root got some runs in the third Test, Ben Stokes looks to be in the mood to score big every time he walks out to bat, while Ollie Pope and Jos Buttler also chipped in with crucial knocks.
Given the make up of that batting lineup is likely to remain unchanged (except for one possible change), the challenge that Pakistan will provide is going to be completely different. West Indies had no left-arm pacers, Pakistan do. West Indies had no searing quick, Pakistan do. West Indies played one or two off-spinners, Pakistan boast of not one but two quality leg-spinners.
How will Pakistan’s pace battery perform?
Pace is pace. And Pakistan will have plenty of that in their squad loaded (overloaded, according to some) with seam bowling talent. They have eight quicks in their 20-man squad but the first-choice three bowlers seem fairly straightforward.
In 20-year-old Shaheen Afridi and 17-year-old Naseem Shah (both of whom have not played a Test in England) Pakistan have a raw but fiery fast-bowling pairing that has cricket connoisseurs smacking their lips in anticipation. Shaheen and Naseem’s ages combined in younger than that of 38-year-old Anderson.
Then the nagging accuracy of Mohammad Abbas plays perfect counterfoil to the exciting pace of the young ones.
Pakistan would do well do not repeat West Indies’ mistakes of overplaying their quicks over the course of the series. But it would not be an exaggeration to say Pakistan’s chances of pulling off a win or two will depend on how the pace battery fares.
Azhar Ali's poor form in Tests
|Since Jan 2018||7||12||273||118||22.75||1||0|
Can Pakistan batsmen do better than West Indies’?
The most obvious takeaway from West Indies’ series defeat recently was how the visiting batsmen struggled to make significant contributions. While Jermaine Blackwood with his match-winning knock in Southampton, not a single batsman managed a century in that series.
And unless Pakistan manage to put enough runs on the board, it is unlikely their bowlers will have much chance to force results. England is arguably the worst country for openers in Test country currently, so the onus will fall on the middle order.
Azhar Ali went through a bad phase as a batsman that made him say he would be ready to quit as captain if his batting continued to suffer. He managed a century against Sri Lanka in Karachi last December to end a run-drought but his numbers in England make for grim reading. The last time he toured England, in 2018, he managed just one half century in four outings. Overall, in 24 innings in England, he averages 29.68 with one century (Birmingham, 2016) and three fifties. He averages below 30 in England, New Zealand and South Africa, indicating his troubles with playing the seaming red-ball.
Then there is Babar Azam who has had just one Test outing in England in his career so far (and made a half century in that before suffering a broken wrist). Azhar has rightly built up praise for the man who has made a strong case in recent times to be considered in the bracket of the best batsmen in the world currently. His five Test hundreds have all come since the start of 2018, during which time he has scored 1,375 runs in 15 matches at a hugely impressive average of 65.47.
In these two cricketers, Pakistan have enough class to hope they can trouble the English bowling unit.
(With AFP inputs)