Pakistan have England’s “fragile top order” in their sights as captain Azhar Ali said that the hosts’ batsmen haven’t looked confident since Alastair Cook retired in 2018. He called England’s bowling line-up “brilliant” but played down any sense of pressure handling an experienced attack.
England have struggled to nail down a regular top three in recent years, not least since Cook’s final Test in September 2018. In their 18 Tests since then, England have used six different opening pairs (five excluding nightwatchman Jack Leach), and no pair has opened together more than nine times. Rory Burns seems to have secured his place but remains inexperienced, with only 15 caps to his name, while Dom Sibley (6 Tests), Joe Denly (14) and Zak Crawley (4) will be fighting it out for the other two spots during their series against West Indies.
“Their bowling attack is brilliant in their own conditions and there is no doubt about it,” Azhar said before leaving for England. “Other than Jofra Archer we have faced all of them – Broad, Anderson, Woakes, Stokes and even Wood was there, but we have still won against them. Looking at their batting, their top order has been fragile for some time since Alastair Cook retired. They have tried a lot of combinations lately and might be looking a bit more settled, but they haven’t been really confident with it. So there is something for us in it to look at.”
Pakistan have a decent away record in England since 2016, winning three Test out six Tests in two drawn series, which finished 2-2 (in 2016) and 1-1 (2018). In fact, that record in England is among the best for a leading Test side in the last four years: during that time, Australia have won two Tests in England with India, South Africa and West Indies winning one game each since 2016.
Azhar said he felt his side had done well on previous tours in England conditions: Pakistan are the only visiting team to score 500+ in a Test in England since 2016, and Azhar suggested that their other successes there – including the 2017 Champions Trophy – could provide them with the belief to succeed again on this tour.
Pakistan’s inexperienced fast bowling bowling line-up might be considered as a weaker link as the talented youngsters Naseem Shah and Shaheen Shah Afridi have no experience playing Test cricket in English conditions. Only Mohammad Abbas, who played two Tests on the 2018 tour and has spent two seasons playing county cricket for Leicestershire, has much in the bank. Yasir Shah, Pakistan’s main spinner, has ample experience but he has had a poor run of late in Tests, averaging 75 with 10 wickets in his five appearances since the beginning of 2019.
“In terms of number of games, of course England have tons of experience in their bowling,” Azhar said. “But we have the skills: they [our bowlers] are young and have a lot to offer. They can give trouble to any team in the world. In a very short time, they have achieved a lot and that is a good sign.
“You can’t buy experience immediately, and for that you obviously have to play more, but then we have a very experienced coaching staff with Waqar Younis and Mushtaq Ahmed. Their expertise and knowledge can be utilised and they will be helping them. So I believe, when this combo of experience and skill is brought together, that we can produce a great result. I am confident about this.
“About spinners, we are not really sure about the conditions at the time of the Test series. The weather right now is great there but it changes frequently and suddenly. We don’t know how it will pan out this summer. We will bring our game plan according to the conditions. We have a larger pool of player and have a lot of flexible options in our touring party.”
Pakistan’s 20-man advance group lands on Sunday afternoon in Manchester and will undergo a 14-day quarantine period at New Road, Worcestershire before transferring to Derbyshire’s County Ground on July 13. Another batch of players that include Wahab Riaz, Shadab Khan will join the squad in the next 10 days if they receive a second negative result for Covid-19. The tour comprises three Test matches starting in the first week of August and three T20Is stretching into September. All six games will be played behind closed doors.
Recent Match Report – WI Brathwaite XI vs WI Holder XI Tour Match 2020
Holder XI 120 for 5 (Da Silva 60*) v Brathwaite XI
West Indies captain Jason Holder had another short stay at the crease as the tourists’ second and final intra-squad match before next week’s first Test against England finally got under way at Emirates Old Trafford.
Holder has been recently troubled by an ankle niggle and while the Windies have played down concerns about whether he is still hampered by the injury, he is running out of chances to get some match sharpness under his belt.
He was out for a golden duck and did not bowl in the Windies’ first internal match last week, and he looked ill at ease during his brief time in the middle on Tuesday, when the all-rounder was dismissed for only five off 13 balls.
In truth, he could have departed for a second successive nought after he clipped his second ball to midwicket, only for Preston McSween to spill a relatively straightforward chance.
Jermaine Blackwood was also out for a single-figure score as the intermittent rain, which had wiped out the first four sessions of this four-day fixture, relented to allow play to start at 2.20pm local time under floodlights.
The wickets of Blackwood and Holder were part of a top-order wobble that saw the side led by the latter lurch from 79 for 1 to 108 for 5 against a Kraigg Brathwaite XI before closing early on 120 for 5 due to bad light.
The decision to abandon plans to pursue first-class status for this contest meant Oshane Thomas was drafted in to open the bowling. The paceman made an immediate impression as a precision yorker castled Sheyne Moseley first ball.
It was a dramatic start to the game but thereafter Thomas over-pitched in an effort to find early swing while Keon Harding was wayward and bowled several no-balls to allow Joshua Da Silva and Sunil Ambris to build a platform.
Da Silva was the aggressor and the mainstay of the innings, getting off the mark with a streaky flash over the slips off Harding but then gradually warming to his task with a series of silky front-foot drives.
The pair went along at five an over in a 79-run stand, which was ended when Ambris, on 25, got a top-edge off Chemar Holder (2 for 15) which looped to short-leg, leaving Marquino Mindley to run in and take a stooping catch.
Blackwood, aiming for a recall at the Ageas Bowl on July 8 nearly three years after his last Test start, made just 1 off six balls before Mindley found the outside edge and John Campbell took a simple chance at second slip.
Campbell had no problem also snaffling Nkrumah Bonner, who failed to trouble the scorers after an attempted drive off Chemar Holder caught the edge. But McSween would give the paceman’s namesake a chance early in his innings.
Jason Holder, though, could not capitalise on his reprieve as the frugal Anderson Phillip (6-3-9-1) put the ball on a good length and the skipper tentatively prodded forward, nicking to Shamarh Brooks at a wide third slip.
Da Silva was measured amid the cluster of wickets and although he is listed in the 11 reserves – with seemingly only paceman Shannon Gabriel in with a possibility of being elevated from that group into the Test squad – the opener was still there at the close on 60 not out when the players came off 45 minutes into the final session.
Initially the players, wearing their navy and maroon training kits, were scheduled to play until 7.30pm local time but the darkening skies led to Da Silva and Raymon Reifer (2no) walking off just before 6pm on the second day.
Jos Buttler in possession as England prepare to get back on the field
Jos Buttler is set to retain his place in England’s Test team for the start of the series against West Indies.
While Buttler has endured a lean run of form with the bat in recent Tests – he has averaged 23.32 in 13 Tests since the start of 2019 and 17.55 in five Tests since the end of the last English season – he retains the faith of the team management and is poised to keep the gloves ahead of competition from Jonny Bairstow and Ben Foakes.
Underlining that faith, Buttler has been confirmed as one of the team captains in England’s warm-up match, starting on Wednesday, and as England’s vice-captain in the first Test against West Indies next week. England’s regular Test vice-captain, Ben Stokes, has been promoted to the captaincy in the absence of Joe Root, on paternity leave, and Buttler is taking on Stokes’ previous role. England hope to have Root back for the second Test.
The three-day warm-up match will feature 27 players – there are 14 on Buttler’s side and 13 on Stokes’ – so will not have first-class status. The only three players from the 30-man training squad not taking part are Amar Virdi, Jamie Overton and Root. All three are understood to be fit, but Root is leaving the squad on Wednesday to attend the birth of his second child and the team management have decided that, in order for key players to gain the match practice required, there is no room for the other two. The match will be live-streamed from static cameras at each end of the ground on the ECB’s website
Although England’s head coach, Chris Silverwood, was giving little away when he spoke to the media on Tuesday afternoon, he did confirm Buttler’s inclusion and hinted that, in general, those players “in possession” of places at the end of the South Africa tour might be in favourable positions. With the Sri Lanka tour subsequently postponed and the English domestic season curtailed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, none of the players involved have played since the South Africa tour finished.
“I wouldn’t say selection is a blank page,” Silverwood said. “You know the people who are the mainstay, the engine room of the team. It is difficult to go too far away straight away from where we finished off.
“Jos will be vice-captain and he is in possession [of the gloves] at the moment. No, you don’t [have to be a genius] to work that out.”
That would appear to represent bad news for Foakes and Bairstow. While it remains possible England could recall Bairstow as a specialist batting replacement for Root – he is probably competing with Dan Lawrence and Joe Denly for the position – his preference for batting in the middle order may count against him.
Equally, it is possible England could play Buttler as a specialist batsman and recall Foakes. Certainly Buttler’s Test record as a specialist batsman – 35.68 in 20 Tests – is significantly better than his record as an all-rounder – he averages 27.43 in 21 Tests when he has kept – but all the evidence suggests England are inclined to make few changes.
If possession really is a key factor in this selection, it would appear to be good news for Denly and Dom Bess, too. But Denly could be squeezed by the return of Rory Burns at the top of the order, while Bess is fighting off competition from both Moeen Ali and Jack Leach as spinner. Moeen, with five Test centuries behind him, might have an especially strong claim for a recall in a side lacking Root.
The beneficiary of Root’s absence could well be Lawrence. While Denly’s durability has been admirable, his failure to register a century in his 14 Tests and his age (he’s 34) may both count against him. Lawrence impressed on the Lions tour to Australia – he made 190 in the warm-up match and 125 in the unofficial ‘Test’ – and, aged 22, is seen as a growing force. With one eye on a return to Australia in 18 months, this could be the time to promote him. Zak Crawley, who seemed to grow in stature with each appearance in South Africa, looks set to retain the No. 3 spot behind Burns and Dom Sibley.
“Dan has settled in very well,” Silverwood said. “He’s a confident guy. He has come in, been himself and played well. He’s certainly one of them that has put his best foot forward.”
The other area England are facing competition for places is in their seam bowling. The enforced break has given the bowlers an almost unique opportunity to rest and work on their strength and conditioning. The result is that, right now, they are all deemed fit.
“The only thing the lockdown has done is delivered me a load of fit fast bowlers,” Silverwood said. “All the guys coming back have had a good break. They are refreshed and they’re firing. They are very, very motivated to crack on. The one thing I have been impressed with is the shape that everyone has come back in.”
Crucially, the three quickest bowlers of those involved in this warm-up match – Mark Wood, Jofra Archer and Olly Stone – are all available, giving the selectors (and for this first Test, Stokes should be considered a selector) an intriguing dilemma. Wood, at his best, is hard to omit and claimed nine wickets in England’s most recent Test. But similar might be said about Archer, James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Tough choices loom.
Team Stokes: Dominic Sibley, Keaton Jennings, Zak Crawley, Jonathan Bairstow, Ben Stokes (c), Ben Foakes, Moeen Ali, Lewis Gregory, Craig Overton, Jack Leach, Olly Stone, James Anderson, Saqib Mahmood.
Team Buttler: Rory Burns, James Bracey, Joe Denly, Dan Lawrence, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (c), Sam Curran, Chris Woakes, Dominic Bess, Mark Wood, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Matthew Parkinson, Ollie Robinson.
Warwickshire sizing up move for Dom Bess as Jeetan Patel successor
Bess’s contract at Somerset expires at the end of the 2020 season, and ESPNcricinfo understands that Warwickshire see him as a potential long-term replacement for the retiring Jeetan Patel. The club’s sport director Paul Farbrace is known to be an admirer from his time working with Bess as England’s assistant coach, and is hopeful that the prospect of first-team cricket in all formats might lure him to Edgbaston.
From this season, counties are no longer required to give 28 days’ notice to other clubs before entering negotiations with an out-of-contract player, and have been free to do so since the beginning of June. It is understood that Warwickshire are yet to make a formal approach to Somerset or to Bess’s agent, but that they are likely to do so later in the summer.
Bess spent two months of last season on loan at Yorkshire, playing four County Championship games and six T20s. Head coach Andrew Gale said at the time that the club would “try everything we can” to sign him permanently, but the situation is complicated this year by the fact 12 players at the club are out of contract at a time when funds are limited due to the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic.
There may be several contributing factors when Bess makes his decision whether or not to stay at Taunton. He is currently Somerset’s second-choice red-ball spinner behind Jack Leach, whose contract runs until 2022, but they are competing against one another – and Moeen Ali – for a place in England’s Test team.
Neither player is currently on a central contract – Leach was awarded an incremental contract for 2019-20, meaning the ECB top up his county salary – but both will hope to win one for 2020-21 if they can hold down a spot this summer.
Bess also has ambitions to play white-ball cricket, but has only made four limited-overs appearances (three 50-over, one T20) for Somerset to date. Max Waller, Somerset’s main T20 spinner, is also out of contract at the end of the year, while allrounder Roelof van der Merwe’s deal runs until 2021. It also remains to be seen whether Bess would want move to the Midlands, having bought a house in Taunton two years ago.
Another promising bowler whose contract expires at the end of the season is Mason Crane, the Hampshire legspinner. Crane has had a frustrating two years with injuries, but was part of the initial 55-man training group named by England in May and will come into contention for the ODI series against Ireland at the end of the month. He was expecting to focus on white-ball cricket this year after Hampshire signed Nathan Lyon to complement Liam Dawson in their Championship side, but the opportunity to play across formats elsewhere could turn his head.
Somerset may also face a battle to keep hold of the Overton twins, Craig and Jamie. Both players’ contracts expire at the end of the season, and are sure to attract interest from any clubs in a financial position to offer them a deal. Somerset declined to comment.
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