It began here and it ends here – the first and final Test of England’s home season. The Rose Bowl in Southampton has not been a particularly idyllic ground for England this home season. They lost the opening Test to the West Indies. While they won the two ODIs against Ireland, they conceded the highest run-chase against them for the Irishmen in the third.
The Test team returned to the venue against Pakistan for the previous match where bad light and rains played spoilsport. But rather it might have helped them in escaping a loss.
From England’s perspective, it was confusing what to make of the batting performance on day five, which was the most that they did throughout the match. With no substantial scores so far in the series, Rory Burns’ spot has slightly come under scrutiny. Zak Crawley’s assuring fifty on the final day was more than an encouraging sign in the absence of Ben Stokes.
But with being under no pressure, the hosts ought to have better than losing four wickets and trailing by 126 runs. With the Test heading for a certain draw, candidates like Dom Sibley and Ollie Pope had the stage to get some commanding scores under their belt instead of departing after a bright start.
On the bowlers’ front, all eyes remain on James Anderson once again whether he will play three Tests on the bounce. But no matter what the result be in the third Test, England will have their home record of not losing a Test series intact.
Despite a below-par batting performance in Southampton as compared to Manchester, Pakistan might have levelled the series in the second. Mohammad Rizwan’s fighting and level-headed knock let out a blueprint of how the rest of the batting line-up must dig in to stay in the fight. The innings of 72, dragging the tourists to a respectable 236 in a damp squib under challenging batting conditions have shut the door on Sarfaraz Ahmed for now. It’s tempting to think about what might Pakistan have achieved if there were time available in the match.
Reducing England to four down and being ahead of more than 100 was an excellent prospect and the bowlers could have wreaked even more havoc if the overhead conditions were in their favour.
Amid all this, the focus will again remain on Fawad Alam, whose comeback after an 11-year hiatus was a forgettable one. Shadab Khan, who chipped in with useful contributions in Manchester, stays in the mix for another must-win clash. It might also be the first time that the weather remains in focus the most over the teams playing.
England are likely to stick with the same eleven. James Anderson desired to play four out of six Tests in the summer, which he has. Hence, it is expected that the management might not risk him and instead bring Jofra Archer to stick with their rotation policy. Mark Wood remains in contention too, having played only one Test this season.
Probable XI: Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Joe Root (c), Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (wk), Stuart Broad, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, James Anderson/Jofra Archer/Mark Wood.
Similar to England, the visitors might also make one change in a bid to win the final Test. Fawad Alam, who experienced a nightmare return to the Test side, might once again be confined to the bench. Spin-bowling all-rounder Shadab Khan will most likely get the nod in that case, who unceremoniously got left out for Southampton.
Probable XI: Abid Ali, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali (c), Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Fawad Alam/Shadab Khan, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Yasir Shah, Mohammad Abbas, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah.
With the weather conditions not suitable to prepare a fresh pitch, the players might likely have to play in the same deck as served for the second Test. Former English captain Michael Vaughan kept that in mind and suggested Pakistan play an extra spinner.
The climate does not look very promising throughout the third Test as well. The maximum showers expected are on the first day, forecast for 56% as rains could grace us with its presence on all days.
Head to head:
Played – 84
Won by England – 25
Won by Pakistan – 21
Drawn – 38
Stats that matter:
If James Anderson plays the final Test, it would be the first time since February 2019 that he features in all the Tests in a series.
43 – Azhar Ali needs 43 runs to reach a tally of 6000 in Test. He will be the fifth Pakistan batsman to do so.
7 – James Anderson needs six wickets to reach 600 Test scalps.
9 – Stuart Broad needs nine wickets to go past Courtney Walsh’s 519.
There’s not much to choose between two teams, especially the way the previous Test match transpired. England should come prepared as Pakistan will leave no stone unturned in levelling the series. It should be a highly intriguing contest.