On the face of it, the circumstances of this rematch lack the urgency that was on show for Nasser Hussain and his men back then, with England already 2-0 up in the series and entitled to coast through to Christmas after the exertions they’ve already put in. But that’s not really the mindset of Ben Stokes and his merry men. They’ve been creating their own intensity since the start of this remarkable run back in June – eight wins in nine Tests now, and each one of them a humdinger – and having lived up to their stated intention to play for a result come what may, we’d best buckle up and see what variation on the theme they serve up this time.
It’s only ingenious if it works, of course – and until Mark Wood got busy on that fourth afternoon, there was maybe just a whiff of hubris in the air. And yet, there’s really no way to quibble with England’s current methodology; a living, breathing embodiment of the late, great Shane Warne’s most enduring mantra, that you’ve got to be prepared to lose to win. In taking the draw off the table, they’ve backed their matchwinners to be precisely that, and from the tireless displays of the seamers to the precocious stylings of Harry Brook, they’ve found an abundance of heroes.
England’s carefree mindset even extended to a six-hitting competition on the eve of the Test – a ploy, Stokes explained, to keep the players’ minds fresh rather than have them counting down the days until their flight home – a typically candid admission from a man who’s placed mental wellbeing at the forefront of his leadership. The downside for Stokes is that he lost out to none other than his coach, McCullum, and as a forfeit, will have the pleasure of waiting on Brook at the team’s pre-match dinner.
After two bruising losses, however, Pakistan may be lacking a similar degree of levity in their camp.
Pakistan LLLWL (last five Tests, most recent first)
In the spotlight
A fast-tracked Test debut that’s been seven years in the making. Such are the curious contradictions that have gone into Rehan Ahmed‘s arrival, at 18 years and 126 days, as England’s youngest Test cricketer of all time. Ahmed first announced himself to this batch of players at Lord’s in 2016, when he was summoned as a net bowler to help England combat the legspin of Yasir Shah, and ended up dismissing Ben Stokes among other notable victims. And now he’s about to cap a breakthrough 2022, one that began with a starring role in England’s run to the Under-19 World Cup final in Antigua, and has also taken in a maiden first-class century and five-wicket haul for Leicestershire, and a taste of the Hundred with Southern Brave. “I’m struggling to work out what he is, whether he’s a batter or a legspinner, which is I guess good, because it shows how much talent he’s got,” Stokes said on the eve of the match. And if that’s not the definition of a mystery spinner, then I’m not sure what is.
Assuming Pakistan are feeling sufficiently sentimental, Azhar will return to play his swansong Test, probably in place of Salman Ali Agha, whose unbeaten 20 in the second innings at Multan wasn’t enough to save the day for his side. Imam-ul-Haq is the other expected absentee, after struggling with a hamstring injury during his second-innings fifty last time out. Shan Masood is a ready-made replacement
Pakistan: (possible) 1 Shan Masood, 2 Abdullah Shafique, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Babar Azam (capt), 5 Saud Shakeel, 6 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 7 Faheem Ashraf, 8 Mohammad Nawaz, 9 Zahid Mahmood / Mohammad Wasim Jnr, 10 Mohammad Ali, 11 Abrar Ahmed
Two changes for England as they shuffle the pack after sealing the series in Multan. Ben Foakes returns in place of Will Jacks – the man who stepped in at the last minute in Rawalpindi when Foakes failed to recover from illness – meaning that Ollie Pope relinquishes the gloves that he donned with some distinction in the first two Tests. And to add to England’s slow-bowling options in Jacks’ absence, Ahmed makes his debut as a legspinning allrounder – although disappointingly for fans of sporting trivia, he will not be sharing the stage with the man who had already claimed 64 Test wickets before he was even born. James Anderson will be resting his 40-year-old bones for this one, after picking up eight more victims at 18.50 in the first two games.
England: 1 Zak Crawley, 2 Ben Duckett, 3 Ollie Pope, 4 Joe Root, 5 Harry Brook, 6 Ben Stokes (capt), 7 Ben Foakes (wk), 8 Rehan Ahmed, 9 Ollie Robinson, 10 Jack Leach, 11 Mark Wood.
Pitch and conditions
Stats and trivia
“It’s a dry wicket, and a typical Karachi wicket. The weather’s a bit hot too, so we expect it will take spin. We’ve dominated the past few Test matches. Both Tests were in our hands but we couldn’t finish them off.”
Babar Azam issues a rallying cry
“From past experiences on away tours and coming to the end of them, certainly for myself, it feels like you’re counting the days down until you get home. I wanted to make sure we didn’t feel like that. I think a big part of what we’ve done, especially out here, is we’ve enjoyed every moment that we’ve spent together.”
Ben Stokes explains the logic behind the team’s six-hitting jape in training
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket
#Match #Preview #Pakistan #England #England #Pakistan #3rd #Test