Keeping an eye on next month’s T20 World Cup, Pakistan will look to draw first blood in the historic seven-match T20I series against England which starts at Karachi’s National Stadium from today (Tuesday).
Today’s match will start at 7pm.
With bitter memories of their shocking defeat in the Asia Cup final against Sri Lanka in Dubai still fresh, the home team will go all out for an emphatic victory in the series, England’s first in this country in 17 years.
The tourists, on their first trip to the country since 2005, will play four of the seven matches in Karachi on September 20, 22, 23 and 25 and the remaining three at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on September 28, 30 and October 2.
The unprecedented seven-match series will serve as a perfect launch pad for both teams ahead of the T20 World Cup in Australia, allowing them to try out different combinations for the mega event.
Pakistan hold the upper hand going into the series considering that they would be taking on a depleted England line-up that is without key players like Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Liam Livingstone and Chris Jordan.
To make matters even worse for the tourists, skipper Jos Buttler is unlikely to feature in any of the four games in Karachi due to injury. There are more fitness concerns in the English camp going into the series opener.
Pakistan, too, have their own share of injury woes with pace spearhead Shaheen Afridi unavailable. Mohammad Rizwan, the world’s top-ranked T20 batter and all-rounder Shadab Khan, are among those apparently lacking full-match fitness.
Pakistan’s below-par showing in back-to-back defeats against Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup ignited a lot of criticism, most of it centering on the team’s inability to bat at a high scoring rate.
Their top batters including Rizwan, who was the top run-getter in the Asia Cup, have been guilty of playing too many dot balls.
There have been suggestions to tweak Pakistan’s batting order, especially the opening pair but skipper Babar Azam was adamant on Monday that he and Rizwan have time and again won matches while opening the batting.
Pakistan were mulling the option of resting Rizwan and if such a decision is taken then Shan Masood, who has been picked for this series and the T20 World Cup, should open the innings.
Shan returns to Pakistan following a long break on the back of a series of stellar performances both in red and white-ball formats. Pakistan’s middle-order has been under fire as well because of unimpressive performances from the likes of Asif Ali and Khushdil Shah.
The duo have been retained but Pakistan have the option of picking the aggressive Haider Ali in the playing eleven. The bowling should include Naseem Shah, Harris Rauf, Mohammad Hasnain and Mohammad Nawaz. If Shadab is rested then Pakistan may bring in leggie Usman Qadir.
When it comes to the English side, all eyes would be on comeback star Alex Hales.
The big-hitting Hales returns to national duty after three years. England have been overlooking him since Hales failed a recreational drugs test shortly before the 2019 World Cup.
Hales is set to open with Phil Salt this evening in front of what is expected to be a sizeable crowd.
Dawid Malan, who has plenty of ‘local’ experience because of his exploits in the Pakistan Super League (PSL), will be anchoring the middle-order along with Harry Brook, also a PSL star.
Moeen Ali will have to play a key role for England as he would be deputising for injured skipper Buttler and lead the visitors in tonight’s game. Richard Gleeson, Adil Rashid, Reece Topley and Mark Wood are expected to form the bowling line-up.
It might be England’s first tour of Pakistan since 2005 but the touring party has plenty of experience of playing in the country thanks to PSL.
More than half of the 20-man England squad for this series have featured in the PSL.
Moeen, who has roots in Pakistan, believes it would be a historic series.
“I have been privileged enough to do many overseas trips as an England cricketer from Australia to South Africa to the Caribbean but this tour to Pakistan might be the most special of the lot,” he wrote in a newspaper column on Monday.
“It was a real pinch-me moment when we got off the plane at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi in our England gear,” he added. Tonight’s match will be played on a brand new wicket which is expected to produce a high-scoring encounter.
The fact that the series will be played in the tragic background of devastating floods in the country will be reflected in Pakistan’s team’s T-shirts in which the players’ names and numbers are shown partly submerged.
Expected Playing XI
Pakistan: Mohammad Rizwan (wicketkeeper), Babar Azam (captain), Shan Masood, Iftikhar Ahmed, Haider Ali/Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Nawaz, Shadab Khan, Asif Ali, Haris Rauf, Naseem Shah, Mohammad Hasnain
England: Phil Salt, Alex Hales, Dawid Malan, Harry Brook, Moeen Ali (captain), Ben Duckett (wicketkeeper), Sam Curran, David Willey, Adil Rashid, Reece Topley, Mark Wood.