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Playing XI: More potent than WI attack, Pak bowlers to test Root & Co

Pakistan are banking on their two leg-spinners — Yasir Shah and Shadab Khan — to make inroads into England's batting on what Pakistan's head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq described would be a dry and abrasive track in Manchester.

Written by Vishal Menon |
Updated: August 5, 2020 2:11:36 pm
England vs Pakistan, 1st Test Eng vs Pak, Manchester Test Eng vs Pakistan, England playing XI, Pakistan playing XI The bowling brigade has been trained under Waqar Younis. (AP)

Ahead of England’s series-opener against Pakistan at Old Trafford, captain Joe Root is fretting over his mercurial all-rounder Ben Stokes’ fitness. While Stokes will be available as a batsman, the quad injury, which he had picked up during the second Test against West Indies could prevent him from bowling. In such a scenario, England could field a four-pronged pace attack comprising James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes. Pakistan, on the other hand, are banking on their two leg-spinners — Yasir Shah and Shadab Khan — to make inroads into England’s batting on what Pakistan’s head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq described would be a dry and abrasive track in Manchester.

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Here’s predicting the possible playing XI of both teams and the challenges they face.

Pakistan XI:

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Shan Masood: James Anderson had tormented Shan Masood the last time he played in England four seasons ago. In two Tests, spanning four innings, he could accrue just 71 runs, with Anderson dismissing him on all four occasions. The opener has come a long way since then, having managed to cement his place in Pakistan’s Test team, and not having missed a single fixture in the last 18 months. Nevertheless, he will still be wary of Anderson.

Abid Ali: The Pakistan team management got a scare when Abid Ali was struck on his helmet while fielding during an intra-squad warm-up match that was conducted in preparation for the Test series against England. Thankfully, the opener was cleared of concussion and is fit for the upcoming duel at Old Trafford. Ali made his Test debut in December last year and struck two centuries in his first two games against Sri Lanka. Against the rampant English pacers, it may well be a trickier proposition.

Azhar Ali (c): The 78-match veteran is the most capped player in this squad. Nevertheless, he is still relatively inexperienced as a captain. Pakistan will need Azhar Ali to score runs as well as inspire his team on and off the field.

Babar Azam: His performances in this series will determine if he can be put in the pantheon of modern greats. For all his talent, Babar hasn’t quite replicated his form in the shorter formats to Test cricket. He has scored five centuries in 26 Tests in comparison to the 11 tons in 74 ODIs. However, his performances in the Test series against Australia during their winter tour last year will give him confidence.

Asad Shafiq: A lot will be riding on Pakistan’s second-most experienced player after captain Azhar Ali. A talented, yet under-rated batsman, one of Shafiq’s concerns has been his inability to convert his promising starts. He has only 12 centuries in 74 Tests, and has notched up six fifties in his last 10 innings, all of which attest to his travails.

Mohammad Rizwan (wk): Mohammad Rizwan is quite an irresistible proposition, and is considered a better batsman and a wicket-keeper than his predecessor Sarfaraz Ahmed. Since Pakistan’s World Cup exit last year, he has been the preferred choice. Back home, he’s somewhat of a club legend with Sui Gas, who he had guided to three domestic titles. Pakistan will need Rizwan’s explosive abilities to give them a headstart in this series.

Shadab Khan: The No.7 spot may be a tad higher for Shadab Khan. The move, though, is necessitated by the fact that Pakistan will be fielding two spinners at Old Trafford. “We have looked at the West Indies series and we have seen that at Manchester and Southampton conditions are different and we are seeing some dry conditions and help for spinners and reverse swing,” Pakistan head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq said during a media interaction on Monday.

Yasir Shah: While there’s little doubt that seamers from both teams will dictate this fortunes of the match, England can ill afford to discount leg-spinner Yasir Shah. The 34-year-old will be hoping that the dry, abrasive track in Manchester will favour his googlies. In fact, he has been working on a variation of a googly with Pakistan spin bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed. In recent times, his batting has also improved — his century in Adelaide last year — is a testimony to the rapid strides that he has made as a batsman.

Shaheen Afridi: This could well be the defining series for Shaheen Afridi. As the leader of Pakistan pace attack, a lot will rest on his broad shoulders. The left-arm pacer did have a pretty tough initiation during the horrific tour to Australia last year, when he finished with just five scalps in three Tests. The Dukes ball and the conditions will be more favourable in England though.

Naseem Shah: It’s been a crazy initiation into Test cricket for the teenager. He made his Test debut in Australia a day after the death of his mother, earned his first scalp of David Warner, and then  returned home to become the youngest pacer to take a five-for against Sri Lanka in Rawalpindi. To top it off, he finished with a hat-trick against Bangladesh in the subsequent home series. The 17-year-old has come a long way since his Test debut eight months ago.

Mohammad Abbas: Having spent a couple of seasons with Leicestershire, will relish bowling in England. He may not be a tearaway fast bowler like Shaheen Afridi or Naseem Shah, but Abbas makes up for his lack of pace with his accuracy and nagging length.

Ben Stokes’ quad injury puts a question mark on his availability as a bowler. (AP)

England:

Dominic Sibley: The opener’s confidence would have swelled following his performances in the second and third Tests against West Indies. Going forward, he will need to showcase his powers of concentration and stone-walling prowess against Pakistan, if England are to get a headstart in this series.

Rory Burns: The left-handed opener has had a pretty frustrating time against the West Indies. Scores of 57 and 90 in the third Test against West Indies would have tempered his frayed nerves, no doubt, but the team management expects more from Burns. A three-figure score would go a long way in improving his poor conversion rate.

Joe Root (c): Even though he didn’t quite set the stage on fire on his return to the England team, Root looked in fairly reasonable touch in both the innings in the second Test at Old Trafford. In the third Test, he showcased glimpses of rediscovering his batting form when he scored a whirlwind unbeaten 68. Against Pakistan, the England captain will look to translate his starts and not find ways to fritter them away.

Ben Stokes: Arguably, England’s most valuable player on current form. However, his quad injury puts a question mark on his availability as a bowler. Not surprisingly, Joe Root will wait for a fitness test before deciding on his playing XI. If the all-rounder is fit to bowl, there will be much deliberation on which seamer to be benched. Stokes had played as a batsman in the third Test against West Indies. “Absolutely there’s a temptation to stick [with an unchanged team]. Luckily we are in a position where we will name the same squad of 14 as the last game. We still need to know a little bit more about where Ben’s at,” England captain Joe Root had said on match-eve.

Ollie Pope: After flattering to deceive in the first two Tests against West Indies, Ollie Pope gave a good account of himself in the third and final match with a stroke-filled 91 that drew comparisons with former England middle-order batsman Ian Bell.

Jos Buttler (wk): A crucial 67 in the third Test against West Indies may have reaffirmed his credentials as a long-format player, but Buttler will know for a fact that with a rampant Jonny Bairstow breathing down on his neck, he cannot afford to take his spot in the England Test team for granted.

Chris Woakes: The seamer has done more than his bit to retain his spot in the playing XI. In the absence of Stokes, he could be the perfect foil to the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Added to that, his batting lower down the order will be a bonus.

Dom Bess: The lone spinner in the playing XI will be more than a handful on the fourth innings of this match, when the Old Trafford pitch becomes drier and more abrasive.

Jofra Archer: Even though he did not quite set the stage on fire in the third Test, it’s difficult to look past Jofra Archer under the current circumstances.

Stuart Broad: The 34-year-old had said he was contemplating retirement following his axe from England’s series-opener against West Indies at Southampton. But the manner in which he bowled in the subsequent two Tests — he crossed 500 Test wickets — illustrates that Broad is still hungry and his international career is far from over.

Playing XI: More potent than WI attack, Pak bowlers to test Root & Co There might be a temptation to rest England’s most experienced pacer since he had featured in the third Test against West Indies. But the prospect of fielding Anderson, Broad and Archer in the series opener against Pakistan would be something Joe Root will find it difficult to ignore. On a personal level, Anderson is also closing in on a landmark of 600 Test wickets.

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