RAWALPINDI: When the first Test begins on Thursday in Rawalpindi, a reenergized England, led by captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum, will play swashbuckling cricket for the first time in 17 years.
England’s game has changed under Stokes and former New Zealand great McCullum. They have won six of their last seven Tests at home playing what is known as “Bazball,” after the coach’s nickname.
That followed a miserable run of just one victory in 17 Tests, including a 4-0 defeat in the Ashes in Australia, which led to the dismissal of head coach Chris Silverwood and Stokes taking over as captain from Joe Root.
McCullum acknowledges that Pakistan, where England last played a Test in 2005, presents a different obstacle.
Pakistan has had to play most of their home Tests over the last two decades on neutral grounds, typically the United Arab Emirates, due to security concerns.
McCullum stated at a press conference, “We understand the size of the challenge in front of us — but that’s great, and that’s why you want to play the game.”
“However, at the same time, we’ll try to take that option if we are given the opportunity to play aggressive and attacking cricket.”
England won this year’s Tests thanks to their new strategy, which enabled them to easily achieve goals of 277, 299, 296, and 378.
However, of their 22 Test matches in Pakistan, they have only won two, lost four, and drawn 16.
With express pace bowler Mark Wood out with a hip injury, seam spearhead James Anderson, who toured with England in 2005 but did not play in a Test, will need to use his 667-wicket experience to get life out of the expected unresponsive pitches.
Root will be in charge of a young batting line-up that needs to stop Pakistan’s new spin attack, which includes Nauman Ali, a left-armer, and the uncapped Zahid Mahmood and Abrar Ahmed.
The home team will be without strike bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi, who is out of the series with a knee injury. Yasir Shah, a veteran spinner, has also been dropped because he hasn’t been performing well. The inexperienced pace attack will be led by Naseem Shah, who has played 13 Tests, and Haris Rauf and Mohammad Wasim Junior are both likely to make their Test debuts.
“It’s dependably perfect to play Britain and I anticipate getting on this excursion with our gifted bundle of players,” tweeted chief Babar Azam.
With a home series against New Zealand remaining, Pakistan will move up to second place in the World Test Championship if they win the series 2-0.The best two of nine groups will challenge the last one year from now.
England is in seventh place and out of the running for the title.
After scoring 1,187 runs while losing just 14 wickets in a tame draw with Australia earlier this year, Pakistan may prepare a pitch that is more focused on results at the Rawalpindi stadium.
Match referee Ranjan Madugalle gave that pitch a “below average” rating, and Australian batter Steve Smith called it “dead.”
England will rely on left-armer Jack Leach’s experience if the pitch spins, and they might even bring in 18-year-old uncapped legspinner Rehan Ahmed, who was drafted into the team last week after being initially named a reserve.Leach has taken 28 wickets in Sri Lanka and 18 in India over the past four years, giving him experience playing on Asian surfaces.
Pakistan (from): Babar Azam (captain), Mohammad Rizwan, Imam-ul-Haq, Abdullah Shafique, Azhar Ali, Abrar Ahmed, Mohammad Ali, Shan Masood, Faheem Ashraf, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Nawaz, Nauman Ali, Saud Shakeel, Zahid Mahmood, Mohammad Wasim Junior, Naseem Shah, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed
England (from): Ben Stokes (capt), James Anderson, Harry Brook, Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ben Foakes, Will Jacks, Keaton Jennings, Jack Leach, Liam Livingstone, Jamie Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Joe Root, Rehan Ahmed
Umpires: Joel Wilson (WI) and Ahsan Raza (PAK)
Tv umpire: Marias Erasmus (RSA)
Match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM)