When James Anderson said that England had to be “creative” on their first tour of Pakistan for 17 years, he probably didn’t mean trying to find enough fit teammates on the eve of the first Test. Brendon McCullum’s side brought their own chef to avoid any 1996 World Cup repeats of the Peshawar pizza being recycled on the pitch when poor Neil Smith couldn’t keep it down. Unfortunately, this virus has gone through England quicker than an Australian new ball attack. Bazball has got the wrong kind of runs.
It’s not known whether there are any plans for the mungbean curry that was part of the ECB’s 82-page dietary document leaked to the Aussie press ahead of the 2013 Ashes down under. England came prepared but there are some elements on the subcontinent that cannot be catered for.
Rawalpindi Could be a Featherbed
Despite the dodgy stomachs, the visitors are determined to bring their pressing game to some of the flattest pitches in the world. Anderson repeated the mantra that this England does not do draws. Their home Test series win over South Africa was very much achieved on speed dial as the last match at the Oval was completed in just over 150 overs. The much-vaunted Australian attack took four wickets for 728 runs in 239 overs at Rawalpindi earlier this year as Pat Cummins muttered: “In terms of the wicket, it wasn’t a super fair contest between bat and ball.”
When play does start in earnest without the threat of England literally spilling the beans, it will be intriguing to see how they back up their attacking talk on a pitch that has been muted. Traditionally, the Pindi Stadium has been much kinder to pace bowling, so a lack of express pace could cause a few sleepless nights. Ollie Robinson began to show the payoff of a better fitness regime towards the end of the English summer, but the idea of a 40-year-old Anderson trundling in at 250 for 2 is not a vision McCullum wants to take to bed with him.Embed from Getty Images
Duckett Gets Top Spot Over Jennings
The makeup of the original side before the virus struck was eye-popping. Off the back of a promising T20 series in Pakistan during September and a very strong domestic season, Ben Duckett has been recalled for his shot-making ability around the wicket. Duckett last played a Test in India in 2016 when he was bamboozled by Ravichandran Ashwin. His younger self made mistakes in technique and discipline. The new version is worth a look, getting the nod ahead of Keaton Jennings who has undergone a similar redemption.
Livingstone Debut Part of Free Swinging England
Liam Livingstone is another whose selection has raised a few eyebrows given that he’s rarely seen in a red ball environment. Ben Stokes joked that the Lancashire man didn’t recognise the white pads in the bag. The England skipper said: “I don’t necessarily think that not playing a red-ball game is going to be too much of a thing for him. He’s a very natural cricketer, he’s going to go out there and really express himself.” If there are a thousand runs out there, will swinging the bat just increase the length of time England need to spend fielding in the oppressive heat? Pakistan repelled Cummins, Hazlewood and Starc for hours on end, so popgun fast medium and slimmed-down spin versions like Livingstone might not be enough to get 10 wickets let alone 20.
With Mark Wood only expected to be fit for the second match and Shaheen Afridi out of the series altogether, the opener is ripe for the long haul. In 2005, England’s Ashes heroes turned up and duly made a B-movie follow-up by losing 2-0. Project McCullum’s aim is to launch it wherever they are in the world. If they can make a Rawalpindi premiere exciting, then that will truly be something to remember.