Big picture

Whinging about the weather might well be a ubiquitous part of English cricketing culture, but even allowing for that, the extent to which it dominated the agenda last week in Southampton was somewhat tedious. Only a day and a half's worth of play was possible during the second Test, where rain, wet outfields and poor light all contributed to the delays, and talk of early starts, pink balls and stronger floodlights went into overdrive. Such was the strength of the discontent that one of the changes proposed will come into effect for the third Test, with the option for play to begin half an hour early. For cricket, especially English cricket, to make that change with such urgency is especially striking; one might have thought there would be rounds of debates, votes and then some dithering for good measure before such a change was actually implemented.

What's perhaps been missed in the furore is how intriguingly the series stands poised going into the final Test of the summer. Having won the first Test, England have the security of knowing they cannot lose the series, but they will have loftier aspirations than that. Joe Root's streak of six consecutive Test wins as captain might have been broken last week, but he will hardly want to end the summer with a loss.

Pakistan, meanwhile, saw an undesirable streak of their own mercifully snapped with that draw; they had lost seven away Tests on the trot until then. Victory for Azhar Ali's side would mean they extend to five the number of series they have played against England since they last lost one, on that doomed tour in 2010. With World Test Championship points on the line, the wider context won't be lost on either side.

With the third Test also taking place at the Ageas Bowl, one might have thought patterns from the second Test could serve as a guide to how this one might pan out. But with virtually no cricket of significance, the two sides will begin the third with something of a fresh slate. Unless pitch and weather conditions make an overwhelmingly compelling case, team changes may be scarce. England may feel their bowlers did their jobs in restricting Pakistan to 236, while Mohammad Rizwan, sensational behind the stumps, found form with the bat, further cementing his position as first-choice wicketkeeper. In what little play was possible on day five, England No. 3 Zak Crawley 's swashbuckling half-century will have provided a handy shot of confidence, while wickets for Mohammad Abbas, Yasir Shah and Shaheen Afridi reminded everyone of the threat of Pakistan's well-rounded bowling attack.

There was little to split the teams in the first Test, and the second was evenly poised when weather called time on it. If the heavens are more accommodating, they look set to make it worth everyone's while.

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)

England DWWWL
Pakistan DLWWD

In the spotlight

England might feel they are getting less use out of their lead spinner than Pakistan are from Yasir Shah, with Dom Bess not having turned his arm over since the first Test. The pitch and weather conditions may have rendered him superfluous, but it you'd think both player and team would have wished he had a few more overs - and likely a few more wickets - under his belt going into the decider. A fresh pitch will be used for the third Test, which doesn't bode brilliantly for Bess's chances, but any decisions around the final XI will have to take into account its effect on the team combination. The truncated second Test meant the balance of England's side in the absence of Ben Stokes was never truly tested, and a fresh, green surface might test their commitment to Bess.

Pakistan have problems of their own. Struggles at the top of the order have put them under pressure each of the three times they've batted, with Azhar Ali's slump showing no signs of abating and Abid Ali's failure to get going on the tour. The pressure to hold the innings together falls disproportionately on Shan Masood, and it will not have gone unnoticed Pakistan's innings capitulated somewhat on both occasions Masood missed out. Even more worryingly, the manner of his dismissal at James Anderson's hands in the second Test was uncomfortably reminiscent of the problems he'd faced against the fast bowler in 2016. With Pakistan relying on his runs far more now than they did then, the pressure on him to return to the near-technical perfection he demonstrated in the first innings at Old Trafford is high.

Team news

England have announced an unchanged 14-man squad for this Test. If Jofra Archer does come back into the side after being rested for the second Test, one of Sam Curran or Bess is probably the most likely to sit out.

England: (possible) 1 Dom Sibley, 2 Rory Burns, 3 Zak Crawley, 4 Joe Root (capt), 5 Ollie Pope, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Chris Woakes, 8 Sam Curran/Dom Bess, 9 Jofra Archer, 10 Stuart Broad, 11 James Anderson

Questions around team combination trouble Pakistan too, with head coach Misbah-ul-Haq and captain Azhar having openly admitted to wrestling with conflicted ideas of whether to play the extra batsman in Fawad Alam, or a bowling allrounder like Shadab Khan. That appears to be the only selectorial quandary heading into the third Test for Misbah, with the fast bowlers needing no rest, having bowled just 29 overs in the last Test.

Pakistan (possible): 1 Shan Masood, 2 Abid Ali, 3 Azhar Ali (capt), 4 Babar Azam, 5 Asad Shafiq, 6 Fawad Alam, 7 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 8 Yasir Shah, 9 Shaheen Afridi, 10 Mohammad Abbas, 11 Naseem Shah

Pitch and conditions

Head groundsman Simon Lee has produced a different strip to the one the second Test was played on; decent weather on Thursday appears to have made using a new surface more viable. That might hamper the spinners' hopes of forcing their way into the game earlier. The option for early starts means bad light should be less of a factor towards the end of the day, and while some rain is around, the weather forecast appears much more accommodating than it did a few days earlier.

Stats and trivia

  • Pakistan are unbeaten in their last four series against England. Pakistan won the two they played at "home" in the UAE, and drew two in England. Should they fail to win the third Test, it will be Pakistan's first series loss since the tour of 2010, when England triumphed 3-1.
  • Babar Azam needs 29 runs to get to 2000 in Tests. Presuming that happens this Test, he will have got to the landmark quicker than either Virat Kohli or Kane Williamson, but four innings later than Steve Smith, and eight later than Joe Root.
  • James Anderson needs seven wickets to become the first fast bowler to 600 Test scalps. He has taken seven wickets at the Ageas Bowl once before in a Test, against India in 2014.
  • Quotes

    "My message to the guys today was quite simple really. We don't know when the next time is that we'll play Test cricket so let's make sure we throw everything into this week, make sure we leave no stones unturned and we give everything to each other and the badge going into this last game."
    Joe Root gees up his players for one last time this summer

    ""I'm lucky to have such a nice bunch of guys who are putting everything in for Pakistan. They have gelled really nicely which makes the job very easy for me so I focus on all the strategies."
    Azhar Ali appears not to have found quarantine life in England particularly challenging

    Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000