PAKISTAN TOUR OF ENGLAND 2019
James Vince and Jofra Archer’s performances will be closely watched © Getty
Last weekend, England held a training camp in Cardiff, a day after The Guardian broke the story that Alex Hales was serving a 21-day ban for failing a recreational drugs test. It was a difficult few days. Hales surprised the squad by failing to apologise and the senior players held a meeting which led to them asking the ECB’s management to drop the batsman from the squad. They will hope their return to the Welsh capital for Sunday’s one-off T20I against Pakistan is a far less fraught affair.
Although both England and Pakistan are focused on honing their 50-over cricket ahead of the World Cup, this match allows both teams to size each other up before the five-match ODI series begins next week at The Oval. Pakistan, the world’s number one ranked T20I side, should start as favourites because they are more or less at full strength whereas England are still resting a number of players who will return for the ODIs.
One player who is missing for Pakistan is leg-spinner Shadab Khan, who has been ruled out of the series with a virus. Arguably Pakistan’s best and most unique short format bowler, Shadab, averages less than 19 and concedes less than seven runs an over. His record is similarly good in the one-day game. He has been prescribed medication and ordered to rest completely for two weeks but his World Cup participation is in doubt.
According to coach Mickey Arthur, Pakistan’s preparation for this tour has been otherwise “outstanding” and they have won their three warm-up matches against the counties relatively comfortably. Babar Azam, the world’s number one ranked T20I batsman and such an important player for Pakistan in both white-ball formats, has been in particularly good form in those games, scoring an unbeaten half-century against Northants and then a hundred against Leicestershire.
Elsewhere, Pakistan’s squad has most bases covered with variety in the bowling attack and an experienced batting order. Concerns whether they have enough power hitters in the middle to lower order remain to be fully proven wrong but in Sarfraz Ahmed, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez, they certainly have players who have been there and done it. Much will be expected of Fakhar Zaman to get them off to a flier at the top of the order.
England are missing most of their first choice T20 batting line-up, with the likes of Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes rested after their IPL stints, but Joe Root will play. During the winter, he played for Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash in a bid to improve his T20 game and state his case for not just being seen as a Test and 50-over player. Although the runs didn’t flow there, he said he learnt a lot and this match against Pakistan is an opportunity for him to remind everyone of what a classy operator he is in all formats.
England’s record against Pakistan in T20I cricket is excellent, with nine victories coming in the 14 matches between the two teams, and they have never lost a T20I game in Cardiff to anyone. Last season, they beat India comfortably in the Welsh capital and have also defeated Pakistan twice in the shortest format there, back in 2010. The last time the two sides met in Cardiff, however, is not such a good omen. In the 2017 Champions Trophy semi-final, Pakistan humbled England there.
When: Sunday, May 5, 2019, 2.30pm Local Time
Where: SWALEC Stadium, Cardiff, Wales
What to expect: It’s likely to be a chilly day in Cardiff but there is mercifully no rain forecast. The surface is traditionally the slowest and lowest of all England’s major international grounds which could make batting tricky but in return, the batsmen have short, straight boundaries to their advantage.
England: Dawid Malan has been ruled out of the match after suffering an injury to his left groin against Ireland with Sussex’s Phil Salt being called-up as cover. He is unlikely to play, however, and Ben Duckett, in the original party, will open the batting while Chris Jordan, a T20I regular for England, is likely to come into the side too.
Possible XI: Ben Duckett, James Vince, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan (c), Joe Denly, Ben Foakes (wk), David Willey, Tom Curran, Jofra Archer, Adil Rashid, Chris Jordan.
Pakistan: The visitors have no injury concerns and a full 17-man squad to pick from. If they opt to play two spinners, Yasir Shah could partner Imad Wasim while Mohammad Amir may get a chance to stake his claim for a World Cup spot after being left out of the provisional 15-man party.
Possible XI: Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed (c/wk), Imad Wasim, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammed Amir, Yasir Shah, Junaid Khan