In-form Pakistan pose real threat
Match FactsThursday, July 29, 2010
Start time 1100 (1030 GMT)
The Big Picture
Test match cricket continues to come thick and fast as Pakistan finally take on the home team on this tour. Their three-wicket victory against Australia has sent a surge of confidence through a young side and the next four Tests promise to be an enthralling contest with England eager to build momentum ahead of the Ashes series.
Andrew Strauss has been at pains to stress that minds will remain fully focused on the task in hand - and England would be careless to underestimate the challenge posed by Pakistan - but some individuals will be playing for their Australia tour. Topping that list is Eoin Morgan, who earns another chance following Ian Bell's broken foot, and has this series to prove he should be the reserve batsman. However, Jonathan Trott, forever it seems under pressure, will also be heavily scrutinised and Alastair Cook shouldn't escape the pressure.
The batsmen will certainly have to be on their toes because Pakistan can boast a potent attack. Mohammad Aamer, the 18-year-old left-armer, lit up the series against Australia with his late swing and he formed a telling opening duo with the skilful Mohammad Asif. Throw in Umar Gul and Danish Kaneria and the bases are certainly covered. But this could be a series to test their depth because four more Tests in four weeks is a tough ask - unless, that is, Pakistan's attack can do similar damage as they did against Australia at Headingley.
However, with Pakistan there is always that inherent unpredictably and the ability to explode. They almost did in their run chase last week and the batting remains woefully inexperienced. Umar Akmal really needs to show he wants to give Test cricket the respect it deserves and he would do well to take a leaf out of Azhar Ali's book after his impressive resistance at No. 3. England's bowlers will fancy making inroads but Steven Finn will hope his time away strengthening hasn't burst his bubble and there is serious pressure on James Anderson to prove he can perform in all conditions.
Salman Butt has done an impressive job to ensure the wheels didn't fall off after the defeat at Lord's and Shahid Afridi's retirement, but with Pakistan the next crisis is only one defeat away. Contests between these two teams have rarely been short on controversy, either, but let's hope this time it's the action on the field that has everyone talking. One way or another, though, don't take your eyes off it.
Players to watch out for
Kevin Pietersen has had a funny old season. He arrived back from the World Twenty20 on top of the world, in every sense, but since then has enjoyed some difficult times. A limited contribution against Bangladesh was almost expected - it was hardly a series to stir his competitive juices - but he continued to struggle in the one-dayers against Australia which ended with him injured. Then, when he ideally needed a hit-out before the Tests, Hampshire turned round and declined to pick him following Pietersen's public airing of his desire to leave. It all leaves him short of match practice, but Pietersen has often been able to lift himself for the big occasions. The prospect of facing a strong attack and the build-up to the Ashes could be just what he needs to rekindle the magic. But it needs to happen soon.
Rarely has there been a young bowler so talented as Mohammad Aamer who appears completely at home in Test cricket. If he was an English cricketer he'd still be playing in the second team for a county, but that isn't how Pakistan operate. If you are good enough, you are old enough. He made the Australians look like novices and England have had their problems against left-arm quicks. The question for Aamer is how his body will handle the strain throughout the series, but there is no doubt that when he is on the field he will cause England a whole heap of problems.
Ajmal Shahzad has been ruled out of the squad with an ankle injury which has meant a late call for Tim Bresnan but he's unlikely to make the final eleven. England's four-man attack policy is a glimpse into their Ashes planning and it's Anderson who has most to prove in the current unit. Morgan, though, is the player with most to gain and Pakistan's attack should give his technique a solid working over.
England (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Eoin Morgan, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Graeme Swann, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 James Anderson, 11 Steven Finn
It's always hard to tell whether Pakistan will pull a rabbit out of the hat, but after their Leeds victory it doesn't seem likely they will make any changes. A two-spinner option could be tempting but Gul is a handy third quick alongside Aamer and Asif. The batting looks thin, but without recalling Younis Khan or Mohammad Yousuf there aren't many other options.
Pakistan (probable) 1 Salman Butt (capt), 2 Imran Farhat, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Umar Amin, 5 Umar Akmal, 6 Shoaib Malik, 7 Kamran Akmal (wk), 8 Mohammad Aamer, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Danish Kaneria, 11 Mohammad Asif
Pitch and conditions
Trent Bridge has a history of favouring the swing bowlers which will suit both attacks and if there is warm weather reverse swing will also become a weapon. The forecast is good for the opening day, but rain is forecast for Friday - although the bowlers won't mind seeing cloud cover.
Stats and Trivia
- The two sides haven't met in Nottingham since 1967 when England won by 10 wickets.
- Almost half the Tests between England and Pakistan - 36 out of 67 - have been draws.
- None of England's bowling attack have previously faced Pakistan in a Test.
"In some ways it is a precursor because there's a lot of attention towards the Ashes and we can understand that. It's wrong to look at any series and look beyond it. All we can do is play well in the series, win the series and go from this series to Australia with a lot of confidence."
Even Andrew Strauss admits it is hard not looking too far ahead
"We need to work very hard, work on every opportunity we get and make use of the conditions as far as possible. That way we can try to give England a tough time."
Salman Butt is well aware his team can't relax after their victory against Australia
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo