After much uncertainty, the first Test between England and Pakistan commenced as scheduled in Rawalpindi on Thursday. The three-match Test series is a continuation of England’s historic tour of Pakistan this year, in which the two sides clashed in a seven-match T20I series before the T20 World Cup.
While the advantage of home conditions will act in Pakistan’s favour, England will look to continue their momentum from a spectacular home summer. The series also kicks off the last leg of fixtures for the second cycle of the World Test Championship.
Here are five talking points to look forward to in the series between England and Pakistan.
The tour itself is a major step for Pakistan, as they were denied the opportunity to host any visitors until last year due to safety concerns.
With the country’s reputation at stake, the Pakistan Cricket Board has made tight security arrangements for both sides. Although this came at the cost of the privacy and convenience of the players, the English squad is reportedly happy with the arrangements so far.
The series is also a litmus test for Pakistan’s ability to host the Asia Cup next year with India already threatening a boycott of the tournament if it is held in Pakistan.
Both the board and the players will be keen that the series goes smoothly without any incidents, boosting their case as a safe destination for cricketers. It would also increase the Pakistan Super League’s ability to attract star players from abroad later on.
England’s spectacular summer
Despite their recent 3-0 loss to Australia in the ODI series, England enjoyed a spectacular year of cricket in 2022.
They clinched the T20 World Cup last month, becoming the first nation to hold both the ODI and T20 World Championships at the same time. England’s focus on white-ball cricket has drawn both praise and criticism in equal measure, with their domination in limited-overs cricket being overshadowed by their abject failure in the longest format of the game.
But even there, the momentum seems to be shifting in England’s favour. After a disastrous Ashes campaign earlier in the year, the Three Lions have won six of their last seven Tests, steadily turning around their fortunes with the red ball. Ben Stokes has proved to be a capable captain so far, but his mettle will be tested for the first time on an overseas tour.
This is also England’s first tour of Pakistan for a Test series in 17 years and the lack of experience on Pakistan’s batting-friendly tracks might present a steep learning curve for Brendon McCullum and his coaching staff.
Both the coach and the captain have expressed optimism about their prospects before the series, and it remains to be seen how England will navigate unfamiliar conditions.
Will sickness affect England’s prospects?
If security, heat, and humidity weren’t enough to tilt the balance towards the hosts, the visitors were also stuck with an untimely viral infection that affected 14 of its players ahead of the first Test.
It is still unknown what the cause of the infection was, but England were already afraid of such an outbreak occurring before the tournament, even hiring their own chefs to cater to the team.
England haven’t made any major changes to the Playing XI they announced before the game on Thursday, with only the debutant Will Jacks replacing Ben Foakes.
Both James Anderson and Jack Leach, two of the worst-affected team members, were included in the game, and it remains to be seen if both players can give their 100% in the sweltering heat.
Debutants for both sides
Liam Livingstone and Will Jacks both made their debuts for England in the first Test with the former included in the original playing XI and the latter replacing Ben Foakes. With Stuart Broad missing out on the entire series, the task of leading England’s bowling attack rests on James Anderson’s shoulders.
Pakistan have made four debuts in the first game – a record high in their history. Notably, three of them are in the bowling department – Mohammad Ali, Haris Rauf, and Zahid Mahmood.
Zahid Mohamood is also the only front-line spinner in the attack. Saud Shakeel will also see action with the bat later in the game.
World Test Championship prospects
While England are definitely out of the World Test Championship finals contention, they still would like to avoid finishing below the likes of West Indies and Sri Lanka before the end of the current cycle.
With six Tests still to go in their calendar, every win will improve their position in the table and would also boost confidence among the team.
Pakistan, on the other hand, have a good shot at qualifying for the finals if they manage to win all five of their remaining Tests. That includes three in the current series and two against New Zealand.
Both series are being held on Pakistani soil where they have an advantage. If both India and Pakistan manage to win all of their remaining fixtures, we can witness a historic India vs Pakistan final for the World Test Championship.
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