England finally drew first blood for the first time in the opening Test of the series since November 2018. That the three-wicket victory came on the backdrop of one of the players who needed to stand up the most was incredibly satisfying. That England coasted to victory from being down and out, deserve monumental amounts of recognition. But the Englishmen would be kidding themselves if they didn’t think Pakistan remained on the top for the most part.
Pakistan played a near-perfect game at the Old Trafford. But that near-perfect stayed that way and did not translate to their second victory at the venue. Perhaps the efforts of Yasir Shah in both innings and the rearguard of Shan Masood in the first got blindsided single-handedly by the 139-run stand between Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes, one that redefined a run-chase on an unpredictable deck. Pakistan’s high-octane pace-bowling attack bowled with venom in both the innings except for delivering the nail on the head.
And despite more positives than negatives from Manchester, the visitors have plenty to ponder about for Southampton. Firstly, Pakistan has not featured in a Test at the Ageas Bowl. Secondly, their captain Azhar Ali is one of the men under scrutiny as captain and with the bat. There remains a minute case for Fawad Alam’s inclusion as well at the cost of Asad Shafiq while the focus is nowhere about to veer away from Babar Azam.
Azam cracked an authoritative half-century in the first innings followed by a single-digit score in the second, which was significant in Pakistan’s defeat. The 25-year old needs to pull his weight and prove why he belongs to the elite list of match-winners of this era.
As for England, their come-from-behind victory hardly covers their fundamental issues. A four-pronged pace attack that performed invincibly against the West Indies appeared flat at certain stages in the first innings. Despite covering up for that in the second, the bowling attack will most likely undergo a shuffle. Veteran James Anderson would probably make way for Sam Curran since Mark Wood’s style of bowling hardly seemed compatible with the pitch in Southampton as seen against the West Indies.
Missing from the bio-secure bubble will also be ace all-rounder Ben Stokes, whose family-related absence can act as a massive boost for Pakistan. It remains unclear who will fill his gaping hole as Dan Lawrence has left the environment due to a family bereavement. Or will the hosts turn to Zak Crawley once again? With that, it is easy to assume that as much an uphill challenge lies for Pakistan, they also have opportunities lined up to level the series. And, of course, their enormous positives from the last game, which they must not forget.
With Ben Stokes out of the side, there remains a possibility of Zak Crawley’s recall to the side. England’s rotational policy of their fast bowlers means that Sam Curran has a chance to play. James Anderson is likely to make way for him.
Probable XI: Dom Sibley, Rory Burns, Joe Root (c), Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (wk), Chris Woakes, Sam Curran, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer.
Pakistan might require the experienced campaigner Fawad Alam in their side for the must-win clash. One who might likely pave the way for him would be Asad Shafiq, who perished without any substantial knock in Manchester. Their bowling attack would remain the same, which came within the doorstep of attaining victory.
Probable XI: Shan Masood, Abid Ali, Azhar Ali(c), Babar Azam, Fawad Alam/Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Shadab Khan, Yasir Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah, Mohammad Abbas
The deck for the game against the West Indies favoured fast bowlers initially. The track got slow gradually and assisted spinners. It might operate the same way again.
Showers might play a significant part and spoilsport throughout the five days. The highest forecast of precipitation remains for day four, recorded at 65%.
Head to head:
Played – 83
Won by England – 25
Won by Pakistan – 21
Draw – 37
Stats that matter:
1 – Pakistan will play their first Test in Southampton on Thursday.
63 – Azhar Ali needs 63 runs to get to 6000 Test runs and will be the fifth Pakistan batsman to do so.
7 – With seven matches so far as captain under his belt with Azhar Ali, he has drawn level with Saeed Anwar. By leading in two more games, he would reach par with Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf.
As already noted, the tourists weren’t far behind by any stretch of the imagination in the first Test. They had plenty of positives from Manchester while the added advantage of Ben Stokes’ absence gives Pakistan the impetus to level the series.