Whitewashing by second-string ODI team leaves visitors short of answers
English eyeballs might have primarily focused on football heartache over the past week, but those who tuned into the cricket received the fillip they might have craved. An ad-hoc English squad cobbled together from a motley crew of country cricket staples and international reservists overwhelmed a Pakistan side that, despite its recent travails, will have felt fairly star-studded in comparison. The visitors were swept aside 3-0, an England team that will never again play together did what was expected of them, and plenty more.
The sight of John Simpson being put out to pasture, only to be replaced by Jos Buttler, and the general return of a near-full strength England side for the T20I leg should send a shudder down Pakistani spines. The tiresome cliché about Pakistani cricket’s unpredictability continues to hold, but the ODI series threw up very few of the highs and far too many lows for a casual observer not to suspect the hangover to bleed into the shorter format. It’s quite all right to succumb to England in an ODI series away, but the embarrassment around the circumstances of the defeats are set to define this tour, no matter what happens in the T20Is that follow.Some English fans – and many, many Pakistani ones, rest assured – might worry England’s full-strength squad threatens to make this even more of a no-contest than the ODI series was. However, Pakistan retain the uncanny ability to drop or raise their level, especially in T20I cricket, in accordance with the quality of opposition they face. The most recent T20I series ended in a narrow 2-1 win for Babar Azam’s side in Zimbabwe, which included a game where they were bowled out for 99. Two series against rather stiffer opposition, South Africa, ended in 2-1 and 3-1 wins for Pakistan earlier this year. And when they last played England in this format? A creditable 1-1 draw last year. Mercifully for England, when cricket throws up that scoreline, there’s no penalty shootout to follow.The return of some of their more renowned power-hitters is timely for England, given the venue of the first T20I. Trent Bridge is among the more conducive venues to run-scoring in T20s around the world, what with its short boundaries and flat wickets. Pakistan will remember England chasing down 340 in an ODI against them at this ground two years ago, with Jason Roy, among the returnees for England, smashing an 89-ball 114. Not to mention the 444 for 3 and all that at the same venue in 2016.However, Pakistan should find some joy in playing T20I cricket at Trent Bridge too, whatever the relative strength of their opposition. For inspiration, they need only rewind to their last meeting on this ground, in the World Cup group stage in 2019. Pakistan’s ODI middle order is notoriously porous, which forces conservatism up top, but that shouldn’t shackle the batsmen when they have only 20 overs to get through. Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan might not be around for long, but they continue to be explosive in brief cameos, and if Mohammad Rizwan’s form up top continues, that might just be good enough to give what is still a quality bowling line-up a fighting chance.
Pakistan WLWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Tom Banton might argue that England owe him an outing. He would have been an ideal candidate for their emergency ODI squad last week, except that his non-playing presence on England’s bench during the Sri Lanka series meant Phil Salt claimed the stand-in opener’s role while he served his period of self-isolation. Prior to that call-up, Banton had been setting the Blast alight, as he seems to do year after year, but puzzlingly, that form hasn’t quite translated into white-ball explosiveness for England, either in T20Is or ODIs. The sample size remains small – he has played just nine T20Is, but crossed 20 just twice. The last series he played, against Australia last year, he managed 12 runs in three innings. His showings in the Pakistan Super League haven’t exactly burnished his reputation back in Pakistan, where only 83 runs across nine innings and two seasons saw him left out of his franchise sides. However, Pakistan might do well to remember both innings of consequence he has played in T20I cricket came against them in last year’s series, in the shape of a 42-ball 71 and a 31-ball 46.Everyone knows Babar Azam scores runs, but that’s really not enough in T20 cricket. He was the highest scorer at the PSL this season, with seven half-centuries across 11 innings, and two fifties and a hundred in his last six T20Is. However, criticism over his strike rate has mounted, especially over the past year, and many feeling his side was hampered the longer he stayed at the crease, particularly with Karachi Kings. He comes into this series fresh off the memory of a career-best 158 in the final ODI, an innings he took time to settle into, only for England to chase their target down with time to spare. In high-scoring T20s, as the one at Trent Bridge is overwhelmingly likely to be, the role of an anchor is especially reduced, and the Pakistan captain might find he needs to be at his sizzling, stylish best if he is to give his side the best shot.
England’s primary headache revolves around how many of their ODI heroes deserve to get a go at Trent Bridge, now that the big boys have turned up. Saqib Mahmood might retain his place ahead of Tom Curran, though Matt Parkinson has a struggle on his hands now that Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali have turned up. Skipper Eoin Morgan slots back into the middle order comfortably, with Jason Roy and Jos Buttler likely to open. In Sam Curran’s absence, there’s a potential berth for Lewis Gregory as their all-sorts allrounder.
England (possible): 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jos Buttler (wk), 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Jonny Bairstow, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Liam Livingstone, 7 Lewis Gregory/Moeen Ali, 8 David Willey, 9 Chris Jordan, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Saqib Mahmood/Tom Curran
Hasan Ali will miss the first match as a precautionary measure due to a strain in his left leg, which he picked during a training session at Trent Bridge on Thursday. Mohammad Hasnain may get his first outing of the tour. There are more Pakistan batters eyeing a spot in the top order than there are slots to accommodate them, so some will play outside of their preferred positions. Shadab Khan will vie with Usman Qadir for the spinner’s role, though it might not be a surprise to see both line up in the starting eleven.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 2 Babar Azam (capt), 3 Sharjeel Khan, 4 Sohaib Maqsood, 5 Mohammad Hafeez, 6 Faheem Ashraf, 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Haris Rauf, 9 Mohammad Hasnain, 10 Usman Qadir, 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi
Pitch and conditions
The weather across the UK has been grim for weeks, but Nottingham is braced for a relative heatwave in the coming days, so the conditions on Friday evening are expected to be balmy. The wicket should be true, despite the rain that’s been around, and the boundaries small. Expect a run-fest.
Stats and trivia
Only four venues have seen runs come at a greater rate than Trent Bridge’s 8.70 in T20 cricket over the last five years. Three of them are in New Zealand, with Eden Park leading the way (9.01). Taunton (8.92) is the other.
Should Fakhar Zaman play, he needs just 52 runs to become the 7th Pakistani batter to reach 1,000 T20I runs
This is the first T20I to take place at Trent Bridge in nearly a decade. The last one, in which England beat West Indies in 2012, included three players from the current English side – Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow
“We’re treating it as if it’s our last chance to look at guys in various positions”
England captain Eoin Morgan suggests there might be an element of rotation to the home side’s line-up this series
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000
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