England and Pakistan played out a thriller in the opening Test of the series. The Green Army appeared to be on course to close out the win at Old Trafford after reducing the home side to 117-5 on day four.
However, Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler combined to produce a special partnership to guide the Three Lions to a three-wicket victory. Woakes saw England over the line with an unbeaten 84, while Buttler provided a valuable 75 to arguably save his Test career.
Pakistan were frustrated by their inability to close out the victory after working extremely hard to engineer a match-winning position. The tourists played well for 75% of the contest and had the hosts on the ropes.
However, they need to develop a clinical edge, which has often been a criticism of the team under the tenure of Azhar Ali. Under Joe Root’s captaincy, England have won their last six Test matches. Their one defeat in 2020 came under Ben Stokes’ tenure.
The Three Lions were not at their best for most of the game, but have proven match-winners across their line-up, which was evident at Old Trafford.
They have a great chance to notch their third series win on the bounce, although those hopes have taken a hit as Stokes will be missing for personal reasons. He has become England’s most valuable player and it will be a measure of the rest of the squad how they cope in his absence.
It will present an opportunity for Pakistan to expose the home side, while also providing a chance for a young player to emerge for Root’s men. It promises to be a thriller at the Ageas Bowl.
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England announced on Sunday that Stokes will travel to New Zealand due to family reasons. It leaves a hole in their batting line-up as the 29-year-old has been their best batsman over the last year.
It puts pressure on the rest of the team to pick up the slack, with Root in need of a significant score more than most. Zak Crawley, Dan Lawrence and James Bracey are in line to replace Stokes in the team.
Crawley played most recently against the West Indies and fared well enough. He would slot back into the side at number three in the order, allowing Root to drop back down to his natural position at four.
England opted to play five bowlers with Woakes at number seven in their last two matches. Jofra Archer and James Anderson have not been at their best during the summer. They are under pressure for their places in the side, despite their world-class ability.
Sam Curran, Mark Wood and Ollie Robinson are knocking on the door. England have not been afraid to rotate their side, although changing a winning formula might not be in their best interests with the series still alive. Chris Silverwood and Root face an intriguing selection problem at the Ageas Bowl.
Pakistan lacked the cutting edge to secure the victory in Manchester. Azhar Ali’s men did all the hard work in manoeuvring themselves into position. However, they lacked the nous with both bat and ball to put England to the sword.
Shan Masood batted beautifully in the first innings, scoring a brilliant 156. After bowling out the home side for 219, the tourists were in complete control of the game.
However, they batted poorly in the second innings, allowing England back into the game. A lead of over 300 would have closed out the contest, instead it took a spirited effort from Yasir Shah on day four to get the Green Army up to 277.
There are not a lot of options available to come into the batting ranks. Fawad Alam could be an alternative, but coach Misbah-ul-Haq along with Azhar Ali will likely give the line-up another opportunity.
Babar Azam displayed a slight bit of immaturity in his approach when well set on 69 in the first innings. Pakistan will want to see more from their star man at the Ageas Bowl.
Although, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Afridi and Yasir bowled well to take the first five wickets, there was no counterpunch to the assault from Woakes and Buttler.
The quality in the bowling attack remains, but the lack of experience from Naseem and Afridi was clear to see. There are options to come into the fold, although it would be a surprise to see Pakistan change up the attack that had England on the ropes, especially in the first innings.
The first day of the contest might be affected by thunderstorms. Other than the forecast looks to be a scorcher for the rest of the Test with high temperatures and sunny weather predicted. The pitch at the Ageas Bowl was flat without a great deal of pace against the West Indies. It could be another low-scoring affair, and batting first could be the key to victory.
Although England won the first Test they were far from their best. It usually takes time for the Three Lions to find their feet in series. Pakistan put forward a huge effort and will have to overcome the emotional impact of their defeat.
It will be a quick turnaround for them and Azhar Ali will be under pressure to produce a response. England are vulnerable without Stokes, but the balance of their side should not be overly impacted.
Expect them to continue their winning run under Root with their bowling attack leading the way. Stuart Broad and Woakes have been outstanding this summer, while Ollie Pope has come forward as a quality player in the middle. There is enough quality in the side for them to beat out Pakistan to claim the series.
England to beat Pakistan 2nd Test – 1.90 Betway