England will be looking to wrap up the three-match Test series against Pakistan with a win against the tourists at Southampton on Friday. The hosts go into the final match 1-0 up and can seal the series with another win following a draw between the teams in the second Test.
Having failed to win a Test at Southampton following cricket’s return amid the global pandemic, England will be hoping that they are third time lucky after losing once to West Indies and drawing their other match against Pakistan at the venue last time around.
Pakistan, on the other hand, know that they must beat the hosts if they are to salvage anything from the Test series. Even though the tourists began the Test series positively, heroics by Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler in the final innings of the series opener as well as a rain-affected second Test meant that Pakistan have it all to play for in the third Test.
England have plenty of solid batting options to choose from but it’ll be interesting to see who they opt for to bat at the no. 3 slot after Zak Crawley, who batted in the position in the last Test, grabbed his opportunity with both hands courtesy a fluent 53.
Crawley looked calm and controlled after walking in to bat following the loss of England’s opener and could well be the answer to his team’s batting woes in that position. The hosts have used three different batsmen in the position in the last five home Tests with Crawley undoubtedly looking the best of the lot.
Since 2018, England have used as many as 10 players in the position – the most by a team – and their average of 30.48 at no. 3 during that time is fourth-lowest among all teams with a minimum of 15 Tests.
On the bowling front, the form of their premier pacer James Anderson will be a slight concern. Anderson is currently in the midst of his worst home season so far. In the five Test matches this year, the English pacer has taken 16 wickets – seven of which came in a game at Cape Town.
With just nine wickets at an average of 34.11 and strike rate of 79.3 in four home Tests, Anderson is in the midst of the second-worst home season of his career. That said, he can take heart from the fact that his strike rate of 51.6 while playing the third Test of a series is the best for him among all matches in a series.
Most of Pakistan’s batsmen have been handy with the willow but need to be more consistent and make the most of their starts. The likes of Shan Masood, Abid Ali, Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan have all contributed during their time at the crease.
However, skipper Azhar Ali has found it difficult out in the middle and has struggled to make an impact with the bat on tour. Ali’s problems in overseas conditions, in fact, isn’t new, with him averaging 12.21 in away Tests since 2018.
He’s managed to score just one fifty and 232 runs from 19 innings in overseas conditions in the past two years. Furthermore, Ali reaching double-digit scores in just seven of those 19 innings doesn’t paint the brightest of pictures, but he will be hoping for a change in fortunes in Southampton and look to lead from the front.
Pakistan’s bowlers, meanwhile, have all played their role for the team so far but Yasir Shah is likely to be the man who poses the biggest threat to England’s batsmen. He and Mohammad Abbas are Pakistan’s joint-highest wicket-takers (57) in Tests since 2018.
Among the wickets in both the previous matches in the series so far as well, Yasir’s strike rate of 61.8 is the fourth-best for Pakistani bowlers with at least 100 Test scalps and is the best by a spinner from the country.
Part of a select group of Asian spinners to take 10 wickets in a match in England along with Muttiah Muralitharan and Abdul Qadir, most of Yasir’s Test wickets have come in either neutral or away conditions, making him Pakistan’s go-to man with the bowl.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Stu Forster