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Cricket news - Battle hardened England out to reverse unsettling trend

England take on Pakistan in a three-Test series starting Wednesday.

England take on Pakistan in a three-Test series starting Wednesday.

Like the West Indians before them, Pakistan have done English cricket a huge favour by agreeing to play a three-Test series which begins on Wednesday (August 5) at Emirates Old Trafford. Not many international teams would have agreed to spend the best part of a month cooped up in the less than salubrious surrounds of a Travelodge in Derby but that is just what the Pakistan squad have done. Towards the end of their time in the UK, the West Indies found life in the bio-secure bubble began to grate and their performances tailed off. The challenge for Pakistan over the next three weeks is to maintain their energy and enthusiasm.

They have a good recent record to defend. Pakistan have not been beaten by England since the 2010 series in this country, which they lost 2-1. In between times, they beat, or more accurately hammered, England twice in the UAE, in 2012 and 2015, and then drew their last two series here, two-all in 2016 and one-all in 2018. They have been somewhat of a bogey team for England and will hope to cause Joe Root's team similar problems during this series, the last two Tests of which will be played at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton.

They certainly have the bowling attack, led by the excellent Mohammad Abbas, to be able to pose those problems. Abbas is a man who knows how to bowl in English conditions. He took eight wickets in the first Test of the 2018 tour at Lord's and in 19 games for Leicestershire in the previous two seasons, took 79 wickets at an average of 20.67, with five five-wicket hauls in the process. The subtle skill of the 30 year-old will likely be complemented by the pace of Naseem Shah who has made such an impression in his short Test career to date and the left-armer Shaheen Shah Afridi. There's also Sohail Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Imran Khan Sr, Usman Shinwari and Wahab Riaz in the 20-man squad. It is a strong collection of fast bowlers.

As they showed during the West Indies series, England too have a bowling attack to be reckoned with and they will be facing an inexperienced batting line-up. Aside from captain Azhar Ali, who has played ten Tests in England, the rest of Pakistan's expected top six have nine appearances in England between them and Asad Shafiq alone accounts for six of those. Babar Azam, ranked sixth in the ICC's world rankings, has played just one Test in England, during the 2018 series, and had his wrist broken by Ben Stokes. Although the likes of opener Abid Ali, two hundreds in three Tests, clearly have quality, how important might their lack of experience in England prove?

That might depend on the pitches and weather. If the rain than hampered the series against West Indies stays away, there may be less seam and swing movement on offer for the fast-bowlers than there was during the first three Tests of this summer. If that's the case, and the surfaces are dry, spin and reverse swing might come into play more which will make life easier for Pakistan's batsmen, and indeed their bowlers. Dom Bess has been included as the sole spinner in England's squad but they could consider adding Jack Leach later in the series if the weather stays as hot as it has been for the last week.

Regardless of the conditions, the hosts will at least expect to be more battle hardened than their opponents after the series against West Indies. That should give them an advantage in the first Test, one they might need. England have lost eight opening Tests in their last ten series and have acknowledged that they have a problem. While that's the first step to solving it, the next step has so far proved more difficult: actually winning an opening Test. They last did that in Sri Lanka in November 2018.

Pakistan have done their best to prepare thoroughly, playing a series of training matches since their arrival in the UK on June 28. Their programme included an intra-squad first-class game although the batsmen struggled, with the two sides' bowled out for 113 and 198 respectively in their first innings.

Given the strengths of both bowling line-ups, the struggles of both side's batsmen could be a theme over the next three weeks.

When:Wednesday 5 August, 2020. 11:00am Local Time

Where: Emirates Old Trafford, Manchester

What to expect: After rain significantly interrupted both Tests against West Indies at Old Trafford last month, the forecast for this game is far better, although there could be showers on day one. Indeed, on the third day, the temperature could even get into the late 20s, positively stratospheric for Manchester. Ahead of the game, Misbah-ul-Haq said the dry conditions might prompt Pakistan to play two spinners and given the Old Trafford pitch usually turns and bounces, and did so during the West Indies series, that would seem an eminently sensible plan.

Team News

England

After playing as a batsman in the final Test against West Indies, Ben Stokes looks increasingly likely to be fit to bowl in this match which means England will probably revert to their desired shape of four bowlers, plus their talismanic all-rounder. In that case, Zak Crawley will come back in to bat at number three. Given the weather and expected surface, Dom Bess' off-spin will be retained which leaves England to pick three fast-bowlers from six. Anderson, Broad and Archer are favourites but Chris Woakes won't be easily left out.

Possible XI: Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler, Dom Bess, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, James Anderson

Pakistan

If Pakistan play two spinners, as Misbah suggested, there looks likely to be no place for Haris Sohail, who played in their last three Tests at home to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Leg-spinner Shadab Khan will come in and bat at number seven with wicket-keeper Mohammad Rizwan moved up to number six, where Sohail batted in Pakistan's last Test against Bangladesh. Despite Sohail Khan taking two five-wicket hauls in the warm-up matches, he might find himself on the sidelines.

Possible XI:Shan Mahsood, Abid Ali, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam,Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Rizwan, Shadab Khan, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Abbas, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah,

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