Pakistan return to the Ageas Bowl with the prospect of heading towards their first series defeat in England in a decade. It’s not that they have been outclassed by the hosts in this series. In fact, Azhar Ali’s team had held the edge for the first four days of the series opener in Manchester, while the second Test ended in a tame draw due to inclement weather and bad light. Once again, the weather will be a concern in Southampton with the forecast for the next five days looking pretty grim. (ENG vs PAK 3rd Test Live)
There’s a lot at stake for England. A win here will not only help them finish the summer on a squeaky clean slate, but it will also catapult them past Australia to the No.2 spot in the ICC World Test rankings. As far as their playing XI goes, Joe Root might be looking to inject a bit of pace by blooding in Mark Wood in place of Sam Curran.
Here’s predicting the possible playing XI of both teams and the challenges they face.
Rory Burns: Rory Burns was tormented by Pakistan’s pacers at Old Trafford, underlining the opener’s grossly underwhelming summer thus far. He didn’t fare any better at Southampton either, as he was dismissed by a vicious Shaheen Afridi outswinger.
Dom Sibley: He toiled hard for his 32 runs in Southampton, before frittering away yet another promising start.
Zak Crawley: England’s No.3 batsman justified his selection in the second Test by stroking a sublime half-century. In the absence of Stokes, the team management will fall back on Crawley’s services for the upcoming duel.
Joe Root (c): Crawley’s induction means that England’s captain will drop to his preferred No.4 position. Overall, he has had a pretty middling summer as a batsman. It’s not as if Root is in the midst of a barren stretch. He has registered promising starts with scores of 23, 22, 17 68 not out, 14 and 42 and 9 not out. However, the big three-figure score has been elusive.
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. Against Pakistan in Manchester, he only enhanced his reputation further with another sublime 62.
Jos Buttler (wk): Jos Buttler has had a pretty torrid time behind the stumps in the previous Test against Pakistan. He spilled two chances against opener Shan Masood who went on to make 156. The wicket-keeper made up for those failures with a superlative batting effort in the second innings by scoring 75, even as England successfully chased down the 277-run target. The match-winning knock will keep his nearest competitor — Ben Foakes — on the sidelines for a little while longer.
Chris Woakes: Perpetually under the shadow of James Anderson and Stuart Broad and Stokes, Woakes has showcased his intrinsic value to his team with his match-winning all-round efforts in Manchester.
Dom Bess: The off-spinner may have picked up just a wicket each in both innings at Old Trafford, but he might play a more integral part, especially in the second innings in Southampton.
Stuart Broad: After being ignored for the opening Test of this summer against West Indies, Broad has made a stellar return to the England team, picking up 26 wickets in the subsequent four matches at an average of 12.38. He bowled England back into the game in the second innings against Pakistan, by removing opener Shan Masood, who was coming off a brilliant century, before returning to pick Mohammad Rizwan and Shadab Khan in quick succession. Even in the second Test, he looked menacing, running through Pakistan’s middle-order with a four-wicket haul in an inspired spell of seam and swing bowling.
James Anderson: The grand old man of international cricket, who turned 38 last month, continues to plug away indefatigably. With 593 Test wickets, he is on the cusp of a rare personal landmark.
Mark Wood: There could be a temptation to unleash Mark Wood, especially if this Test is played out on the freshly laid-out strip. Wood featured at this venue in the opening match of the summer against the West Indies last month.
Shan Masood: His dismissal to James Anderson in the first innings of the previous Test could just open a can of worms. But Shan Masood has shown enough glimpses of his talent and the rapid strides that he has made as an opener over the last 18 months.
Abid Ali: The opener was worked up by England’s pacers in the first innings in Manchester, before succumbing to a brutish inswinger from Archer. In the second essay, he frittered away a glorious opportunity, when he holed out in the deep off the bowling of Dom Bess. Scores of 16 and 20 do not showcase Ali’s true potential. However, a gritty 60 under treacherous conditions in the previous match would put him in a good frame of mind.
Azhar Ali (c): The Pakistan Test captain is under intense pressure for failing to inspire his team either as a captain or as a batsman. Having scored just 38 runs from three innings on this tour attests to his poor form.
Babar Azam: Pakistan’s best batsman has promised a lot, but somehow, has not quite set the stage on fire. He did get off to a splendid start in this series, scoring a sumptuous 69 in the first innings at Old Trafford. While he looked good in Southampton, the England seamers, particularly Broad, tested him with a nagging fourth stump line.
Asad Shafiq: Much like his captain, Pakistan’s second-most experienced batsman has also looked a pale shadow of his usually pristine self. He needs to come good in Southampton if Pakistan harbour hopes of finishing this tour on an even keel.
Mohammed Rizwan (wk): Rizwan finally showed his talent with a fire-fighting 72 under hostile conditions at the Ageas Bowl. Pakistan’s bowling coach Waqar Younis heaped praise on his wicket-keeper batsman. “Conditions were tough, Rizwan played a brave, positive, and calculated knock. It’s not easy batting with the tail, but he added small partnerships and got Pakistan to a total where we all were feeling confident and were in the game,” Younis said.
Shadab Khan: The all-rounder’s return not only adds variety to Pakistan’s bowling attack, but it also gives them depth to their batting.
Yasir Shah: The Old Trafford Test was dominated by pacers. But Yasir Shah showed guile and impeccable control to spin a web around England. He finished with eight wickets — four in each innings — to go with a fighting 24-ball 33 in the second innings that gave his team a realistic chance of going for a win. Even though the leggie did not have much to show for in the truncated second Test, he remains a vital cog in Pakistan’s bowling attack.
Shaheen Afridi: The left-arm pacer bowled with a lot of heart, but with no luck whatsoever in Manchester. However, he showed skill and control while bowling under overcast conditions at the Ageas Bowl.
Naseem Shah: Like Afridi, 17-year-old Naseem Shah, too, has not picked truckloads of wickets on this tour so far. However, he did bend his back and clocked impressive speeds.
Mohammad Abbas: Abbas has been really impressive, bowling with pin-point accuracy and nagging length. He may not have the pace of Afridi or Shah, but he has an interesting action and bowls with a wobbly seam that has put England’s batsmen under strife.