Test series preview: England in Pakistan

England’s historic Test tour of Pakistan is just over two weeks away as the two sides gear up for the three-match series. Babar Azam’s men will be aiming to avenge their heartbreaking T20 World Cup final defeat to Jos Buttler’s side and keep their hopes of a World Test Championship alive in the process while England look to continue their rebuild under Brendon McCullum. Concern is growing that England’s preparations could be disrupted amidst an increasing tense situation in Rawalpindi after the attempted assassination of former Prime Minister Imran Khan sparked political unrest in the host’s country. But McCullum will be determined to keep the focus on cricket and make a quick turnaround from the T20 final and Australia ODI series. Pakistan rode a wave of sentiment to the MCG for the T20 final, echoes of 1992 reverberating all around, but England’s cold, hard pragmatism proved an insurmountable roadblock to their World Cup aspirations. McCullum will be hoping to replicate some of that success and capitalize on the momentum to lead his side to a historic series win.

Ben Stokes’ side will play three Tests in Pakistan, the first time England have played red-ball cricket in the country since 2005 and are looking in good shape heading into the much-anticipated series. With Ben Stokes’ side securing a 4-3 win in that series and a T20 World Cup win too it is fair to assume Pakistan will be out for revenge and determined to end their dismal run of results against the English. The hosts are still in with a shot of reaching the World Test Championship final should they claim victory in this series but they come up against a resurgent England who are themselves searching to dispel some painful results in recent memory. Those looking to bet on international cricket should look for the best betting offers when they do. The series this summer against New Zealand was a hard reset and McCullum’s introduction could not have gone better. It was a fitting end to a 3-0 series win that may become a reference point in time as Jonny Bairstow launched Michael Bracewell for six over long-off and embraced his fellow Yorkshireman, Joe Root, after the completion of another staggering run chase to round off a convincing series triumph. England’s first clean-sweep on home soil since 2011 was not simply about the scoreline and an end to the bleeding from their winter misery, but the manner in which it came about; it was exactly what the coach and captain had asked for from their players. But England’s three successive run chases in excess of 275, the wins at Lord’s and Headingley coming after first-innings collapses say a fair bit about how the tides have changed in the English camp.

They followed this momentous victory up just a few days later with a composed performance against a dangerous Indian outfit to level their series with them 2-2 resuming after delays due to COVID. They pulled off their fourth consecutive and highest successful chase in Test cricket as Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow completed sparkling unbeaten hundreds, making India’s celebrated bowling attack look utterly bereft of ideas in near-perfect batting conditions. Mohammed Siraj nursing figures of 15-0-98-0. He went for nearly six an over in the first innings too, though there were four wickets to go with it. Shardul Thakur, meanwhile, conceded 113 in 18 overs across the two innings while taking just the one wicket. These two were part of an India attack that created sustained pressure on England last summer. On this visit, the two of them and Ravindra Jadeja, who extracted very little from the pitch while bowling a negative line from left-arm over, left Bumrah and Shami carrying too much of a burden to manage by themselves. A remarkable achievement for Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, the new captain and coach, even if the long-term viability of their all-out-attacking philosophy will be put to test more rigorously in due course, when England play in more bowling-friendly conditions.

This series presents an opportunity to cement the new regime’s legitimacy and prove to critics that this is not a case of a lucky start to Stokes’ and McCullum’s tenure at the helm. Surrey all-rounder Will Jacks has earned his maiden call-up to the England Test squad while Lancashire all-rounder Liam Livingstone returns to the Test squad for the first time since the tour of New Zealand in 2018. Lancashire opener Keaton Jennings and Nottinghamshire batsman Ben Duckett have also been picked in the 15-man squad. Jacks composed 648 runs and also took 17 scalps to help Surrey win the County Championship in 2022. Meanwhile, Jennings scored 1233 runs with five centuries in the Championship. Incidentally, both his Test hundreds of him have come in Asia. Duckett, who last played a Test in November 2016, compiled 1012 runs for Notts this season. Livingstone can be ruthless with bat in hand but he can also bowl off-spin and leg-spin which will be a useful weapon at Stokes’ disposal on spinner friendly surfaces. Fast bowler, Mark Wood, who was laid low by an elbow injury earlier in the year, also returns to the squad. Jamie Overton also finds a place in the England set-up. However, veteran England seamer Stuart Broad won’t be a part of the squad as his partner is expecting their first child. Seamer, Matthew Potts, and opener, Alex Lees, both of whom part of the England Test squad during the home summer, haven’t been included in the squad.

On the other side, the men in green will be without the services of their ace pacer, Shaheen Afridi, who was ruled out of action after suffering a knee injury during the T20 World Cup final. All-rounder, Faheem Ashraf, is enjoying his return to form on the international stage. The left-arm pacer, Mir Hamza, is another player who is knocking on the selector’s door after an impressive run taking 16 wickets so far in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy series. Mohammed Abbas is another dangerous prospect England’s batters will need to look out for as he has earned a Test recall after rediscovering some fine form and hoping to add to his tally of 18 wickets from his five matches in the Pakistan side. Other contenders for a Test call-up are young opening batter, Mohammad Huraira, and experienced middle-order batter, Usman Salahuddin. Both the players have piled on the runs in the domestic circuit and have made a case for themselves to be included in the Test squad. It’s as unpredictable a series as we can remember in recent memory and the stage is well set for an enthralling tussle between two sides looking to put a marker down in two very different ways.

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