England are juggling a delicate selection debate as they look to build on the unfamiliar feeling of leading a series while also managing the absence of their best player for tomorrow’s Second Test against Pakistan.
England went 1-0 up at Emirates Old Trafford on Saturday with a stunning chase of 277, despite falling to 117 for five. Ben Stokes then informed his team-mates that he would return to New Zealand this week to be with his unwell father, Ged.
That victory broke a run of five straight defeats in series openers. England have not led a series since 2018, when they whitewashed Sri Lanka. That means as many as four of the likely XI on Thursday — Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Dom Bess and Jofra Archer — have never led in a Test series.
England do not find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to come from behind to win this one, as they did in South Africa in January and against West Indies last month.
There is a balance to be struck between fielding a side strong enough to win the series at the first opportunity and managing the workload of their best bowlers in a congested schedule.
Having driven down on Monday (this time without any unscheduled stops), England trained for the first time in Southampton on Tuesday afternoon, with their bowlers pulling up sore after the First Test. They, therefore, chose to delay the naming of their squad for the game until after training on Wednesday.
All four seamers who played at Old Trafford have played three of the four Tests, with Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes featuring in all of the last three. James Anderson and Archer have played the last two but, having been less effective so far this summer, are perhaps more likely to be rested.
In the absence of Stokes, Woakes’s batting from No7 — which enjoyed a spectacular and timely return to form on Saturday — means he is the likeliest of the four to play. Sam Curran is also highly likely to come into the XI to lengthen the batting order.
Mark Wood has had a niggle this week but is in contention, as is the uncapped Sussex seamer Ollie Robinson. It seems likeliest that England will sit on the fence with their squad selection today, naming 14 players, before slimming down to XI at the toss.
Pakistan could make a change to the balance of their side if the pitch is not as dry as it was in Manchester, with batsman Fawad Alam a candidate to come into the middle order in place of Shadab Khan, their second leg-spinner.
One of England’s priorities will be their top order getting to grips with Pakistan’s varied attack, which contains the left-arm angle of Shaheen Shah Afridi, nibble from Mohammad Abbas and the leg-spin of Yasir Shah.
England were bowled out for 219 in the first innings, giving away a deficit of 107.
“They are a very good attack — they have got a bit of everything,” said opener Sibley. “Abbas is very accurate, they have the left-arm angle of Shaheen, the youngster [Naseem Shah] has some pace and a world-class spinner [in Yasir].
“It is a very good attack but we have had a look and now we need to adapt for Thursday. It’s all well and good having variety, but if you don’t have the accuracy and skill level there to back it up you can try and pick them off. We’ll have to be at our best in the next two Tests to cope with it.”