Livingstone’s injury had initially pointed to an obvious return for Foakes, whose keeping is superior to Pope’s and, with Will Jacks stepping up with six wickets on debut, they had demonstrated they could cover for his absence as a spin option. Foakes had been Ben Stokes’ go-to keeper since the allrounder became captain at the start of the English summer, playing six out of seven Tests, with his one absence – against India at Edgbaston – coming when he failed to recover fully from Covid.
Though Foakes is now fully fit after recovering from last week’s bug, the decision was made to persist with Pope. Stokes was empathetic to Foakes, who he still regards as the best technical wicketkeeper in the game right now.
“The communication to Ben was that the real positive for him to take out of this selection is that it’s just for this Test match,” said Stokes on Thursday. “Foakesy still is the No. 1 gloveman in England and I’ll still keep saying it, that he’s the best keeper in the world. It must sound a bit silly to not be picking him, but you’ve got to look at the conditions we face out here. Pakistan is a very hard place to come and bowl.
“Adding Mark Wood into the side gives us the best opportunity to take 20 wickets. That’s what we came here to do, we came here to try and win games of cricket, not be concerned, especially going into this game with a 1-0 lead. We want to keep continuing to press the way that we play and we felt bringing Woody into the team was the best opportunity for us to do that out here in this specific Test match.”
When asked if Foakes had been dropped down the pecking order of keepers, Stokes responded unequivocally: “No, absolutely not.”
“That is one thing we did say to him: don’t take this as anything going into the future. We didn’t have any of this on our radar before we started the first Test match with the illness that Foakesy unfortunately had, which allowed us to think like this. This is definitely no sign of Ben Foakes’ future going forward and in the dressing room.”
“It’s something that, even in the last Test match, was in the back of our minds, speaking to Popey about how he felt about keeping and batting three,” Stokes said. “And then, similarly, we just had a quick word with Ducky. Very unlikely, but if circumstances mean that Popey is a bit tired he could take the gloves, albeit very unlikely.
“You know, the performance that Popey put in last week as an individual was outstanding. To stand behind the stumps for the amount of time that he did, after scoring a hundred and then standing in the field and going back out there and batting again, especially as someone who’s not used to doing that role. It’s a very crucial position out here and he took it in his stride and really enjoyed his time behind the stumps.
“I thought he did a fantastic job as someone who’s a part-time keeper, so it’s great that we’re able to have different options. But as I said at the start of the presser, the team that we’ve picked for this Test match will have very little bearings going forward into the next game or even the summer. Foakesy is our gloveman and I can’t stress that enough.”
Wood returned to England to recover from that injury at home but, after missing the Test squad’s training camp in Abu Dhabi, he was deemed unavailable for selection for the first Test given how little he had bowled up to that point. He also felt unwell ahead of the Test though his illness was unrelated to the virus affecting the rest of the group.
Wood offers a point of difference with his extreme pace, showcased during the World Cup where he bowled the most deliveries (31) above 150kph (93mph) and registered the fastest delivery of the tournament at 154.74kph (96.2mph). Stokes confirmed his county team-mate was fit and raring to go and welcomed the extra zip he will bring, especially when it comes to the short-ball tactic England deployed so effectively in the first Test.
“Having someone in your squad who can bowl 150km/h is a massive bonus for any team around the world, especially out here with Pakistan being a very hard place to come and win. Having someone of this calibre and what he brings, the way in which he bowls, is going to massive for us. He is going to add to our ability to take 20 wickets I think, and it’s a bit of a different story to having three low 80mph bowlers compared to Mark Wood bowling.”
Further complications for England’s preparations could come from the local conditions, with heavy winter smog expected to delay the 10am start time, as well as create potential health issues for the players. Videos from the ground sent to the team show visibility at less than 10 yards between 9am and 9.30am before eventually clearing at around 11am. England’s flight into Multan from Islamabad on Tuesday was delayed by three-and-a-half hours as a consequence.
Multan’s air quality index was rated as “unhealthy” on Thursday, with a level of micro-particles 18.5 times higher than the guideline set by the World Health Organisation. Local advice is to wear masks outside and avoid outdoor exercise, which will become a problem from Thursday onwards, when England train for the first time at the Multan Cricket Stadium.
The ECB medical staff on the tour, led by medical director Dr Nick Peirce and team doctor Anita Biswas, will take a view on conditions at the venue on Thursday. Training began at 11am with every member of the squad taking part in nets. Only assistant coach Paul Collingwood missed practice through illness.
Stokes said he was not worried about the smog, and went as far as to say he does not expect the heavier air to effect how much work the team will be able to get through in the field.
“I think it’s just another thing we are going to have to deal with. It doesn’t seem like it was any more draining because of how muggy it was. It was just a little bit sweatier, so might have to bring a few more pairs of whites to the game.
“The pitch is dry and seems a lot more muggier here than it was in Islamabad. I think square, it’s quite a big, hard, dry square. Looking at that you might see reverse swing coming into a Test match a lot earlier than it did.”
Meanwhile, gun shots could be heard 1km away from the Ramada Hotel this morning, where both teams are staying in Multan. Four arrests were made by Pakistan police authorities, who say the shooting was between two rival gangs.
No one was injured and security plans remain unaffected. Both England and Pakistan are understood to have already left for the ground at the time of the shooting, which took place around 9:30am.
England 1 Zak Crawley, 2 Ben Duckett, 3 Ollie Pope (wk), 4 Joe Root, 5 Harry Brook, 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Will Jacks, 8 Ollie Robinson, 9 Jack Leach, 10 Mark Wood, 11 James Anderson.
This article was updated on December 8 to reflect England’s confirmed Test XI
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo
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