England take on Pakistan in the first of a three-match series at Old Trafford from Wednesday and Ed Hawkins thinks Misbah's men should go well at if they can bat first...
"Although we suspect the packed schedule and smaller squad could do for Pakistan in pandemic times, their best chance of success of a win is early on when they are fresh, firing and fully motivated"
England v Pakistan
Wednesday 5 August 11.00
Live on Sky Sports
England are buzzing after coming from behind to reclaim the Wisden Trophy against West Indies and they will expect to make it three series wins in a row.
Their bowling strength is superb. They have so many options now they may not know their best XI. If they stick with the winning formula that comfortably beat the Windies last time out, they will go with Chris Woakes in an all-out pace attack. Woakes took seven wickets when England beat Pakistan in Manchester in 2016. Dom Bess, the spinner, didn't bowl a single delivery in the third Test at Old Trafford.
That means with Ben Stokes presumably fit to bowl, Zak Crawley could be restored to the line-up at No 3. Mark Wood is expected to miss out.
Possible XI Burns, Sibley, Crawley, Root, Stokes, Pope, Buttler, Woakes, Archer, Broad, Anderson .
Tourists might be unbalanced
Pakistan are in business if the ball swings with Mohammad Abbas and Shaheen Shah Afridi human wrecking balls. Naseem Shah, a 17-year-old quick, is potentially explosive. England's flaky batting beware.
But the tourists are potentially brittle, too. Their batsmen must fight their natural instinct to stay in the crease and they have to learn to play the ball as late as possible. Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq are wise enough to know that, and Babar Azam is good enough to do that but Pakistan's openers look dodgy.
Two from Abid Ali, Imam-ul-Haq and Shan Masood will have to face up to England's new-ball attack and too often Pakistan could be two down for very little.
Unlike England, Pakistan have a gap at No 6. Do they fill that with another batsman, an all-rounder in the shape of Shadab Khan or Faheem Ashraf or do they opt for the left-field option and pick Sarfaraz Ahmed as a batsman only? With
Mohammad Rizwan taking the gloves that would be the smart option. Coach Misbah-ul-Haq has strongly hinted they will pick Shadab to form a twin leg-spin attack alongside Yasir Shah.
Possible XI Masood, Imam, Azhar, Babar, Shafiq, Rizwan, Shadab, Yasir, Abbas, Afridi, Naseem
Misbah hopes for turn
Misbah seems convinced the Old Trafford wicket will take spin, which is curious considering England's refusal to bowl Bess there only last week. Windies twirler Rahkeem Cornwall failed to take a wicket and Roston Chase only nabbed three.
Still, if Misbah is sure of spin at least Pakistan will bat first if they win the toss, unlike Jason Holder. The opportunity to post 350 should not be passed up by the tourists.
The last six first-innings match scores (1-2 denote won by side batting first or second) now read: 369-1/469-1/497-1/362-1/589-1/152-1/527-d.
Pakistan the value call
As we discussed in our series preview, England face a tough challenge against an opponent they can never quite get on top of. They haven't beaten Pakistan in a series anywhere since the home win in 2010, losing twice in the UAE and drawing two on home soil in 2016 and 2018.
Although we suspect the packed schedule and smaller squad could do for Pakistan in pandemic times, their best chance of success of a win is early on when they are fresh, firing and fully motivated. They should be encouraged by England's record of eight defeats in their last ten first Tests of a series.
We will keep that toss on side, though. Pakistan are [5.50] so play if we can get [4.00] or better. England are [1.48], which is no fun at all. The draw is [6.80]. Remember we had a whole day washed out in each of the West Indies Tests in Manchester and there was a result each time. The forecast is for no rain.
Stokes is 4/1 for top England runscorer in the first innings with Betfair Sportsbook? Is that value given his tremendous run of form? Our Hawk Eye stats column has the answer, including an analysis of Stuart Broad's game and why there might have been an overreaction to his exploits last time out. Plus, all of Pakistan's batters and bowlers are subject to a deep data dive to reveal their true chance of winning on the tops.
Joe Root made 254 in that Test in 2016. He is Sportsbook's 11/4 jolly but he has only seven wins in his last 49.
Listen to this week's Cricket...Only Bettor for a deep data dive on the Pakistan squad
Ed Hawkins P-L
Based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running match advice or commission rate. Figures 2013-2016 on 1pt level stakes. New points system (0.5pt-5) introduced for 2017. Includes Hawk-Eye stats column p-l
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Back Pakistan batting first at [4.0] or better