World Cup preparations dominate agenda as Pakistan to face England in 1st ODI

0
52

The prologue is done and dusted – with England picking up two wins out of two in a pair of vastly contrasting contests over the bank holiday weekend. First, they held their nerve on a claggy dog of a deck in Malahide to seal a low-scoring cliffhanger, the like of which Eoin Morgan’s men have all too often lost in the past. Then in Cardiff a couple of days later, the one-off T20I against Pakistan served up a more familiar boundary-laden bunfight, sealed with aplomb – and a rare outbreak of emotion – by the skipper’s unbeaten half-century, reported Cricinfo. 

And now on to … what exactly? It’s clearly not the main event of the summer – not even close – but these five ODIs against Pakistan are about as far from an irrelevance as bilateral one-day contests come. They offer, at the eleventh hour of England’s four-year World Cup build-up, a chance to build confidence, finalise squad members, hone plans, and re-enter the head-space of World Champions-elect, a mindset that England – whether it tempts fate or not – will need to occupy if they are to be the last team standing come July 14 at Lord’s.

Not that their opponents have habitually taken such a focused route to global riches. At the 2017 Champions Trophy, as at the 1992 World Cup, Pakistan perfected the art of peaking at the right time (an aim which England has invariably shared in their previous 11 campaigns, but never with anything like the same success…).

On both occasions, Pakistan translated shambolic starts into glorious finishes, scooping the spoils with irresistible displays of pre-ordained bravado – the sort of warrior-frenzy that scatters the mindset of teams that can only play to a plan. That’s where England will need to be different this time around, and why playing against a team of natural-born mavericks could be crucial to their fine-tuning in the weeks ahead.

England: (possible) 1 James Vince, 2 Jonny Bairstow, 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Jos Buttler (wk), 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Joe Denly, 8 Adil Rashid, 9 Jofra Archer, 10 Chris Woakes, 11 Liam Plunkett.

Pakistan’s main selection issue, perhaps, is whether to give time to the two men on the fringes of their World Cup squad: Amir and Asif Ali. Both were named in the 12 Pakistan will pick from, and there could be as many as nine changes to the last ODI XI they put out, against Australia in March – Imad Wasim captained in that game but Sarfraz is now back to take the reins; Haris Sohail and Yasir Shah are the other continuity candidates, with Abid Ali overlooked for now. The regular openers, Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq, should be reunited, while the choice to complete the bowling attack is between Amir and Yasir.

Pakistan: (possible) 1 Imam-ul-Haq, 2 Fakhar Zaman, 3 Babar Azam, 4 Haris Sohail, 5 Sarfaraz Ahmed (capt/wk), 6 Asif Ali, 7 Imad Wasim, 8 Faheem Ashraf, 9 Hasan Ali, 10 Shaheen Shah Afridi, 11 Mohammad Amir

Pitch and conditions

The Oval has seen plenty of high-scoring ODIs over recent years, although England needed No. 8 David Willey to get them over the line chasing 215 against Australia 11 months ago. The pitch for this game looks a bit green but is expected to play pretty well – however, rain is forecast during the morning, clearing later, so there could well be a delayed start.