Pakistan look for on-field solace
Match factsSeptember 5, 2010, Cardiff
Start time 2.30pm (1.30pm GMT)
The switch from the staid whites of Test cricket to the technicolour razzmatazz of Twenty20 is one that usually suits Pakistan to the tee, and the limited-overs leg of their tour should have been a tantalising prospect. Events since the Lord's Test have tarnished what had been an absorbing summer of cricket between these two teams, however, and the first Twenty20 at Cardiff will come under intense scrutiny although much of the attention will, sadly, not be for cricketing reasons.
Pakistan face a mountainous task in attempting keep their focus and fill the vacuum left by the departure of their two best bowlers and Salman Butt, who was the team's leading runscorer at the World Twenty20 in the West Indies earlier this year. Given the scale of the furore currently surrounding the team, all the pointers suggest that they will struggle to be competitive against a World Cup-winning England side that, despite the dropping of Kevin Pietersen, will start as firm favourites.
This being Pakistan, however, nothing can be taken for granted and England will surely still be wary of a team that has proved highly adept in this form of the game. Given the nebulous cloud of allegations, suspicion and rumour that continues to swirl around the visitors, Shahid Afridi's return to the mix appears to have brought a surprising measure of calm to their set-up. Just as Mohammad Yousuf's return inspired a battling team at The Oval, Boom Boom's arrival could well spark a revival in Pakistan's fortunes - on the field, at least.
England have emerged from the spot-fixing scandal unscathed and appeared a relaxed and bonded unit as they trained in Cardiff. Pietersen's absence, and the possibility that Stuart Broad may sit out the match after suffering a groin strain, will allow the home side to experiment with a couple of new combinations, and though a couple of Twenty20s can hardly be viewed through an Ashes lens the importance of maintaining their winning streak will not have escaped England's set-up.
Form guide (last five completed matches)
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In Ravi Bopara's last outing for England, he launched a tame Bangladesh attack to all parts, rocketing to an unbeaten 45 from 16 balls to close England's innings. It was an exhibition, once again, of his undeniable ability but until he performs against the stronger attacks questions will remain. He has a chance at No. 3 to boss the innings and prove to all the doubters that he belongs on the international stage.
It's pretty rare that Shoaib Akhtar's arrival on a tour is overshadowed but with all the shenanigans going on there was an air of serenity surrounding Shoaib. Very much the elder statesman of the side at 35 he still possess the long run, long hair and fast pace that once made him the world's most magnetic cricketer. It could, as it so often does, end in farce, or he might just wow the England crowds one final time.
England's World Twenty20 triumph was crafted on a remorseless professionalism running through the side. It created a team where each player was entirely certain of their individual role and their position in the wider machine. In the first game after that success, however, there are a number of changes with Michael Lumb out with a broken foot and and Kevin Pietersen dropped. Steven Davies comes into the side at the top of the order and will have the gloves while Ravi Bopara will replace Pietersen. Ajmal Shahzad could get another opportunity to impress if Stuart Broad doesn't recover from a minor groin strain. The other area of contention is whether England stick to Ryan Sidebottom ahead of James Anderson, who has been in such remarkable form this summer.
England (probable) 1 Craig Kieswetter, 2 Steve Davies (wk), 3 Ravi Bopara, 4 Paul Collingwood, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Luke Wright, 7 Tim Bresnan, 8 Michael Yardy, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 Stuart Broad, 11 James Anderson.
Amidst the off-field crisis there has also been a glut of injury concerns adding to Pakistan's woes. Umar Akmal suffered a concussion after taking a blow to the face in practice on Tuesday while Abdul Razzak, Wahab Riaz and Umar Gul are all nursing niggles. Reinforcements have been sent for but batsman Asad Shafiq and the gigantic left-arm seamer Mohammad Irfan will only join the squad next week. Shahzaib Hasan and Fawad Alam's matchwinning partnership against Somerset means they will slot into a side that will look very different to the one that played at the Test at Lord's.
Pakistan (probable) 1 Shahzaib Hasan, 2 Kamran Akmal (wk), 3 Fawad Alam, 4 Mohammad Yousuf, 5 Umar Akmal, 6 Shahid Afridi (capt), 7 Abdul Razzak, 8 Umar Gul, 9 Wahab Riaz, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Shoaib Akhtar.
Pitch and conditions
The last time these two sides met at Cardiff, back in 2006, rain proved the winner but forecasts are brighter this time round. Though hardly a minefield, scores in all forms of the game at Cardiff have been on the low side this season. The taller bowlers profited in England's ODI against Australia earlier this summer but both teams' spinners should also find conditions to their liking.
Stats and Trivia
- Pakistan won't be able to call on Asif or Amir, but they'll still have the services of offspinner Saeed Ajmal, who was their leading wicket-taker at the World Twenty20 in the West Indies with 11 scalps in six games, and Umar Gul, whose stats - 46 wickets in Twenty20 internationals at an average of 13.04 and a run-a-ball economy rate - are a good indication of his potency in the format.
- For a man seemingly tailor-made for Twenty20s and known for his big hitting, Shahid Afridi's name is surprisingly low down on the list of six-hitters in T20 internationals, sitting in tied 20th place. He's cleared the ropes 19 times in 33 innings, and will surely be looking to add to that tally in Cardiff.
- One man ahead of Afridi on that list is England's own Brigadier Block - Paul Collingwood - who has hit 23 sixes in 29 innings.
- The re-called Steve Davies scored 389 runs including three half-centuries for Surrey in the Friends Provident t20 competition, finishing as their second-highest runscorer and leading the way with a strike-rate of 162.08
"There are obviously distractions around but the guys are just looking to getting out there and playing the game."
Paul Collingwood, England's Twenty20 captain wants his side to stay focused on the task at hand.
"Myself and the coach have already told the boys: 'Don't talk about this issue, we are here to play cricket.' It is none of our business and we are here to play cricket."
Shahid Afridi lays out his plan to rescue Pakistan's tour.
Liam Brickhill and Sahil Dutta are assistant editors of ESPNcricinfo