After a week-long break, Test Cricket once again returns as England gear up to face-off Pakistan with the first Test starting tomorrow at The Old Trafford. After an early scare against the West Indies, England managed to reignite the winning spirit and sealed the three-match series by comprehensively triumphing in the last two fixtures. The hosts will now look to hit the ground running against Pakistan, a side they have not beaten in a bilateral Test series for a decade or so.
Pakistan, on the contrary, have been frequent Test visitors to England and, as far as statistics go, the most successful ones too since 2011. They have the highest win percentage (50%) for any team that has visited England during the last decade. Pakistan are all geared up to further prove their mettle in Test Cricket and climb atop the World Test Championship points table.
Pakistan have announced a 16-man squad to face England in the first Test. Led by Azhar Ali, Pakistan have named experienced players like Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, and Yasir Shah. Sohail Khan, who last played a Test in 2016, has also been selected owing to his performances in the practice games.
Apart from a whole battalion of pacers, Pakistan have also selected three spinners in the squad. This may hint towards an attack featuring two spinners because of a potentially dry surface on offer. There are enough chinks in the England batting line-up to exploit and a well-rounded Pakistan bowling attack is certainly capable of that.
Much of Pakistan's fate in the upcoming England series rests on the shoulders of the trio of batsmen: Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, and Asad Shafiq. Azhar has ample amounts of experience of playing in England He has not only featured for Pakistan in three different series against England in England but has also represented the Somerset Country Cricket Club in back-to-back Specsavers County Championship seasons.
However, much of the focus will be on Babar who has attracted immense prominence of the cricketing fraternity after rejuvenating his Test career. Since the advent of 2018, he has turned over the tables in his own merry way and become Pakistan's mainstay in the Test format, too.
Babar's stats since January 2018 are not only the best for any batsman across Pakistan but they are world-beating, too. For batsmen who have featured in at least five Test matches in these last 31 months, Babar has a staggering average of 65.47, the highest amongst this list.
Pakistan’s Likely XI: Abid Ali, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali (C), Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Yasir Shah, Mohammad Abbas, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah, Sohail Khan/Shadab Khan
England, on the other hand, have already named an unchanged squad from the last Test against West Indies and might as well name the same playing XI as well. Ben Stoke and Stuart Broad were the pick of the players for England in that series and would once again play a crucial role in England’s campaign against the Men in Green.
The hosts look to have finally found a stable opening pair in Dominic Sibley and Rory Burns and they are sure to open the batting for England in the first match. At number three, though, we could see Zak Crawley or Joe Root depending on whether they choose to retain the four-pacer strategy along with Dominic Bess or drop the spinner owing to Pakistani batsmen’s prowess in playing out spin-bowling. With Ben Stokes back to his full bowling fitness, we might as well see Root being inclined towards the latter choice at toss tomorrow morning.
James Anderson was was highly economical in the previous series with a rate of 2.34, but he needs to get amongst the wickets more frequently. He is 11 shy of reaching the 600-wicket mark, a feat no fast-bowler has achieved before in the history of Test Cricket. Jofra Archer, too, will pose a genuine threat on an Old Trafford track that is renowned to be the fastest deck in England.
England’s Likely XI: Rory Burns, Dominic Sibley, Joe Root (C), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (wk), Chris Woakes, Dominic Bess, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, James Anderson
First innings runs are crucial in Manchester as batting has shown to become difficult as the days progress. The last five Tests here have all been won by sides batting first. Toss will be of immense importance since no side has won a Test here after and electing to field first.
Conditions for tomorrow are expected to be cloudy with slight drizzles around. However, it's said to clear out as the game progresses and will be fairly bright for the rest of the match with temperatures reaching to high 20's (degree Celsius) – setting it all up for a cracking Test to kick-start a much-awaited series.