An exciting series is all set to begin today…..
The season of T20 cricket nears its end and with great jubilation, the cricket fanatics who disregard the shortest format of the game as nothing but a tamasha get ready to welcome the English Summer. A season that will begin with a young Pakistan side touring the nation, will end after a gruelling series with India. As Joe Root’s Men get ready for some home comfort, here are the things that one can look forward to from England in the two-match series with Pakistan.
England’s home run begins
Like most Test teams nowadays, England, too, are a side that runs in contrasts. In the last four years, they have been able to win 16 of their 28 matches that have been played at home but it is in overseas matches that they struggle. In the same period, the Englishman have won just 4 games out of 21 abroad, 12 of which have been defeats. They last won a Test overseas in October 2016 against Bangladesh, and since then they have faced defeats from India, New Zealand and Australia.
The Root-led side faced their worst phase when they failed to win a single match during the Ashes and in their succeeding series with New Zealand – a record that threatened to expose the failing form of their old stalwarts. Now that England are back in the confines of their home conditions, they can hope to get back the lost confidence and their lost momentum, which is of great value ahead of India’s visit.
All eyes on Alastair Cook and his opening partner
It is no secret that Alastair Cook has remained one of England’s most successful Test batsmen, who was once even touted to go past Sachin Tendulkar’s records in the format. However, the last one year has been anything but magical for the former skipper who, despite his two double centuries in the interim, has looked anything but convincing. Other than his knocks of 243 against the West Indies in Birmingham in August and an unbeaten 244 on Boxing Day in the 4th Test of the Ashes, Cook has crossed the 50-mark just two times. He has made 484 runs in 12 matches, excluding when he has made more than 200 and he looked visibly out of sorts in his last series against the Kiwis, where he averaged just 5!
The other major cause for worry remains Cook’s opening partner in the longer formats. Since Andrew Strauss retired in 2011, 13 different openers have been tried out, without any impressing. Mark Stoneman is likely to partner Cook in the series and even though he averages just 30.17 in ten Tests, a fifty in his last innings against New Zealand means that the player will be given a rope against Pakistan. Stoneman remains strong off the wicket and has truckloads of county experience, which gives him the chance to prove his worth again.
The return of Jos Buttler
Acknowledging the importance of a counterattacking batsman down the order, new chief selector Ed Smith did not shy away from picking Jos Buttler in the two Tests against Pakistan. The dangerous player has been in a rich vein of form, albeit in the shortest format when he smashed 548 runs at an average of 54.80 and a strike-rate of 155.24 for Rajasthan Royals. Stating that his experience of playing against quality bowlers in high-pressure situations in the IPL will help his cause, Buttler has a tough job at hand, but over the years, one has seen how important it is for a side to have a genuine power-hitter in the format down the order, and the wicket-keeper promises to deliver just that.
Despite an average of just 31.36 in 18 Tests, Smith was impressed by his fearless cricket that was on display in India and even though the fact that Buttler has played only eight First-Class games since 2016 did not come in the way of his selection. The player will be donning the white flannels for the first time since the tour to India.
Moeen Ali’s omission and the inclusion of Dom Bess
Even though the English team had been relying on Moeen Ali to play the role of a spinner, an indifferent time in Australia and New Zealand pushed for his omission and the selection of Dom Bess, the Somerset finger spinner. An injury to Jack Leach during a county match with Hampshire meant that Bess, Leach’s Somerset teammate, was fast forwarded into the international arena. The 20-year-old has taken 63 wickets in his domestic career, with an average of 22.49.
Ali, who had phases of impressive performances, regarded himself more as a batsman than a spinner, and Smith preferred to go in with a frontline spinner in Bess.
“With Jack Leach missing out due to injury, the selection panel wanted to invest opportunity in a young spin bowler. Dom’s strong form, character and all-round abilities presented a compelling case for selection”, stated Smith.
With 5 uncapped players in the Pakistan rank and with James Anderson and Stuart Broad still a threat with the red-ball in home conditions, the task is cut out for the Sarfaraz Ahmed-side, but Pakistan have shown that when the odds are firmly against them, they can be most unpredictable.