As in the first Test, so too in the one-dayers. After an inauspicious start in Abu Dhabi, England’s bouncebackability has ensured that this contest will now go down to the wire. If Eoin Morgan blamed his batsmen for their shortcomings in the six-wicket defeat in Wednesday’s opening fixture, then the voracity of their response was a delight for the skipper to behold. A maiden ODI hundred for Alex Hales that included a century stand with his opening partner, Jason Roy; a serene example of mid-innings run-harvesting from Joe Root, and another probing display from a young seam attack who shared eight wickets between them were plenty reasons to believe in the continuing development of an upwardly mobile squad.
A change of venue beckons for Tuesday’s third ODI, however, and if the lessons of the Test series are anything to go by, then the surface in Sharjah is likely to favour the slower bowlers on both teams, which in turn should play comprehensively into the hands of Pakistan. That said, England’s neutering of the legspinner, Yasir Shah, was a major factor in Friday’s 95-run win – his nine overs were milked for 70 runs – and there is some concern about his fitness for this match. However, with Shoaib Malik still displaying the confidence with the ball that led to seven series-sealing wickets in the third Test earlier this month, the onus will surely be on England’s spin twins, Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali, to at the very least match the control and penetration of their Pakistani counterparts.
Nevertheless, England do appear to be the more settled of the two teams at present. The reverberations of Younis Khan’s surprise retirement are still being felt by Pakistan’s squad. Their coach, Waqar Younis, echoed the sentiments of the PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan in criticising the timing of Younis’s departure, and the plugging of that sizeable hole in the middle order has led to all manner of upheaval elsewhere in their line-up. Neither Bilal Asif nor Babar Azam, who played a vital role from No.6 in the opening victory, has looked comfortable as a makeshift opener, while Azhar Ali, the captain, has seemed devoid of intent at the top of the order. Mohammad Hafeez, Pakistan’s in-form Test opener, was bagged for a duck by David Willey from No.3, arguably the decisive moment in England’s victory push on Friday.
If there was an area of concern for England in the second match, it centred around the failure of their own middle-order to build on the start provided by Hales and Co. At 165 for 1 in the 30th over, conventional wisdom suggested that a score well in excess of 300 was on the cards. However, thanks in no small part to another supreme spell from Wahab Riaz, England were forced to settle for 283. It proved, on this occasion, to be more than enough, but with Jos Buttler in particular still struggling for the form that he had been displaying at the start of the English summer, England’s line-up is still some way short of full efficiency.
No qualms about Pakistan’s pace attack – Wahab’s class allied to Mohammad Irfan’s cloud-scraping angle of attack, plus Anwar Ali’s consistency with the new ball – means that their seam options are plentiful. There is, however, a concern over Yasir’s fitness. He sustained a knee injury during practice on the eve of the match and may be forced to sit this one out. Bilal would be the obvious stand-in. At the top of the batting order, Ahmed Shehzad could become Azhar’s third opening partner in as many matches.
Pakistan (probable) 1 Azhar Ali (capt), 2 Ahmed Shehzad, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Iftikhar Ahmed, 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Babar Azam, 7 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 8 Anwar Ali, 9 Wahab Riaz, 10 Yasir Shah, 11 Mohammad Irfan.
No reason for significant tinkering to England’s balance or line-up. The top five looks as solid as anything that the selectors have conjured up since the pre-World Cup panic that unseated Alastair Cook, while Buttler’s struggle for form is no reflection on his obvious class. Not for the first time this tour, the role of Moeen is raising some eyebrows – he is arguably under-utilised in the lower middle-order – while the temptation to play an extra paceman in Liam Plunkett must be strong. But if Rashid’s legspin is to develop as a one-day threat, with next year’s tour of India an obvious staging post, then these are the fixtures in which he needs to play.
England (probable) 1 Jason Roy, 2 Alex Hales, 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 James Taylor, 6 Jos Buttler, 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 David Willey, 11 Reece Topley.