Congratulations to Pakistan on becoming the new world No.1 test team. I’m sure it feels all the sweeter because they’ve reached the top at India’s expense. Unfortunately however, Pakistan haven’t been anywhere near as successful in ODIs recently. In fact, they currently languish as low as 9th in the world rankings. That’s two places lower than Bangladesh. Hmmmm.
Pakistan’s problem, on paper at least, seems to be their batting. There’s no Misbah, no Younus, and therefore no real spine. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of logic either. Mohammad Hafeez, who opened in the test matches, looks like he’ll bat at No.3, whereas Azhar Ali, who batted No.3 in the tests, looks like he’ll open. Explain that one?
Fortunately, however, Pakistan’s bowling should be very strong. And if you’ve got a good attack that’s capable of taking wickets, you’re usually in with a shout. We saw at The Oval what a difference a fit and firing Wahab Riaz makes to Pakistan’s team. If he can bowl quickly and provide a real spearhead then England will be tested. Throw the experienced Umar Gul into the mix – a bowler I’ve always quite liked – and suddenly you’ve got a decent unit. It looks like Amir and Yasir will get the support they didn’t always have in the test series.
As for England, we begin the series in great form and with an embarrassment of riches to choose from. It’s crazy really. Not long ago our test team was very solid but our ODI side had less depth than a paddling pool. It’s the complete opposite these days. I find it remarkable that Jonny Bairstow can’t make the team and the talented Ben Duckett can’t even make the squad.
England’s lineup looks strong in all departments. The batting, as discussed, looks formidable. Hales, Roy, Root, Stokes and Buttler are all match-winners on their day. The bowling, which isn’t quite as talented, also looks strong now that Mark Wood is back. It’s just a shame that Ben Stokes probably won’t bowl for a while yet. It means that Moeen will have to bowl his full allocation of ten overs (unless Root sends down a couple). Personally I hope Dawson gets a run at some point during the series. It would be good to look at another spinner with the tour to India coming up.
Now it’s time for my usual ill thought through and highly irrational and subjective predictions. It’s the moment that sends a shiver through every professional cricketer’s spine. After all, they know that once TFT backs them to win, career-shattering defeat is more or less certain.
On this occasion, I’m backing England to win the series 4-1. I just sense that we’re on a crest of a wave in ODI cricket whereas Pakistan are languishing at the very bottom of some pretty extreme doldrums. Most sportsbooks agree, with England as short as 1/4 to win the series. That’s pretty emphatic.
Having said that, Pakistan’s bowling attack should make the games entertaining to watch. I’m guessing their best strategy is to bat first, put runs on the board, and then hope their bowlers can defend something relatively modest. They’ll have to take wickets at regular intervals though as England bat all the way down to number nine or ten.