News Analysis

England need calm response to Pakistan pressure

The return of James Anderson and Ben Stokes will give England a boost as they look to level the series at Old Trafford

The reaction to defeat at Lord's speaks volumes for the febrile atmosphere in English cricket at present.
With a couple of newspapers calling for the selectors to be sacked, you would think defeat at Lord's, or defeat against Pakistan, was an unprecedented disaster. But actually England lost at Lord's in 2015 and 2014 and Pakistan beat them 2-0 barely six months ago.
So quite why the defeat at Lord's has caused such shock is puzzling. Pakistan are a fine side with, arguably, the best bowling attack in the world. They are rated above England in the rankings and Lord's (and The Oval and Manchester) offer England little home advantage. Anyone surprised by Pakistan playing well - or England's batting looking fragile - really hasn't been paying attention.
The consternation over the absence of James Anderson is puzzling, too. The decision not to risk him at Lord's - a not unreasonable decision bearing in mind he had yet to play a game after sustaining a shoulder injury - was not responsible for the defeat. England's "naïve" batting, as Alastair Cook termed it, was.
It's certainly not a selection fiasco in the grand traditions of English cricket. Take the Major Nigel Bennett episode, for example. Major Bennett popped into The Oval in 1946 to renew his county membership after the war, but was mistaken for Major Leo Bennet - who had represented the British Empire XI during the war - and offered the captaincy. He took up the offer before anyone realised a mistake had been made and went on to lead Surrey to what was, at the time, the worst season in their history. He averaged 16 with the bat.
Still, Anderson's return to the squad - he bowled in the nets on Wednesday and looks fully fit - is welcome. So, too, is Ben Stokes, who admitted he required the bowling he gained in the Championship match he played against Lancashire instead of the first Test to regain match fitness. Both of them are highly likely to play though the selectors have given the captain and coach - a coach, it should be remember, who has barely seen a week's county cricket in his life - every option with an unusually large 14-man squad.
With Stokes and Woakes available as allrounders, England have plentiful options here. One of those is to field a second spinner (Saqlain Mushtaq worked with Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali in training on Wednesday) and either drop one of the batsmen (probably James Vince, but perhaps Gary Ballance) or play only three of Stokes, Woakes, Anderson and Stuart Broad.
Bearing in mind Pakistan's excellence against spin and England's record of success fielding a two-man spin attack in home Tests - they have not won a game in England using a two-man spin attack since 1985 - and that looks both an unwise and unlikely scenario. England have only fielded a two-man spin attack at home six times in the last 20 years. The last time - at The Oval in 2013 - saw Simon Kerrigan's unfortunate debut. The time before that was in 2009 when Monty Panesar helped James Anderson bat England to what had seemed an unlikely draw against Australia in Cardiff.
It seems more likely that England will pick the four-man seam attack with one spinner. Whether that is Rashid or Moeen remains to be seen, though Rashid does look the favourite at this stage. Pakistan look likely to play only one spinner though, as Stokes remarked on Wednesday, Yasir may well be "the best legspinner since Shane Warne."
As well as a few Lancashire players, Glen Chapple and Steve Rhodes attended England training on Wednesday with a view to taking coaching tips back to their counties. Matt Parkinson, the Lancashire legspinner, will again bowl in the nets on Thursday (he was with the England squad at Lord's) and Mason Crane, the Hampshire legspinner, will do the same at The Oval. The England camp also hope to continue to engage with former players and create situations where they can pass on their tips to the current team. Andy Caddick is expected to speak to the squad at Edgbaston and Darren Gough will do so later in the summer.
Although the outfield at Old Trafford is not especially pretty - the result of staging lucrative Rihanna and Beyonce concerts here in recent weeks - the pitch is expected to be good. It should offer some pace, bounce and spin as the surface wears; in short, it should reward good cricket.
Lancashire played two spinners in their last Championship match here. One of them - Parkinson - took a five-wicket haul in the first innings. The groundstaff are using the 'cannabis hot lamps' we have seen previously at Edgbaston to promote grass growth on the outfield (either that or they have moved into a most unorthodox sideline) but, unless heavy rain hits, it should only be a cosmetic problem.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo