LONDON: The one-off Twenty20 International between England and Pakistan on Sunday, 5 May, will help the teams get into match mode before they throw themselves completely into preparation for the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019.
According to ICC, most players will agree that there’s nothing like match-practice against strong opposition in suitable conditions to get ready for a big tournament. Which means that England, the No.1 side on the MRF Tyres ICC ODI Team Rankings, and Pakistan, No.1 on the corresponding T20I rankings, who are set to play a one-off T20I and a five-match ODI series in England and Wales before the World Cup, which starts on 30 May, will be two of the best prepared sides for the premier tournament.
A lot of the focus will be on the ODI series between the sides as the hosts, especially, try to answer some late questions: Will Jofra Archer find a place in the final 15? Can the other pacers lift their game? Who will stand up to be counted for the spot left vacant by Alex Hales? But before that, the T20I should make for a tasty appetizer.
England still aren’t their full-strength squad. They will go in with the same set of players who scrapped to a four-wicket win against Ireland on Friday after being reduced to 101/6 at one stage. Archer, who by his own admission was nervous to make his debut against Ireland, is likely to get another go, while his fellow pacer Chris Jordan, who didn’t feature in the XI in the last game, could get a look in.
Duckett, a late call-up to the squad, is also waiting for his T20I debut, while James Vince, who made 18 against Ireland, will be hoping for better numbers to bolster his case ahead of the ODIs. Phil Salt, the uncapped batsman from Sussex, was called up on Saturday to replace Dawid Malan, who was ruled out with a muscle injury to his left groin.
Pakistan go into the game with their batsmen in fine form, with all of Imad Wasim, Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam making hundreds in their tour wins. However, they will be without Shoaib Malik, who has been granted leave, and there is an injury cloud over Mohammad Hafeez as well.
All eyes will be on Mohammad Amir, who found himself out of the preliminary World Cup squad. In his only game on tour so far, he picked up one wicket.
Players to watch
Liam Plunkett (England): Questions have been raised about Plunkett’s drop in pace, and while he has been named in the World Cup squad, he is likely to face competition from Archer. He responded to the pressure well, by picking up four wickets and giving away just 35 runs.
Babar Azam (Pakistan): Azam, the No.1 batsman on the MRF Tyres ICC T20I player rankings, is fresh off his maiden T20 hundred. His 63-ball 101 against Leicestershire included 13 fours and two sixes, and was instrumental in setting up the Pakistanis’ 200/6 in their final tour game.
Skies will be mostly clear in Cardiff, but it is likely to be chilly, with highs of 13°C. Pakistan have played three games in the UK so far, so are expected to have acclimatised fairly well.
England: Eoin Morgan (c), Jofra Archer, Tom Curran, Joe Denly, Chris Jordan, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, James Vince, David Willey, Ben Foakes, Phil Salt, Ben Duckett
Pakistan: Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk, c), Abid Ali, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Imam-ul-Haq, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Amir, Asif Ali