What a difference a session makes to the outlook of a tour. It was one Day 4 session in the first Test at Old Trafford that sketched the wafer-thin border between triumph and disaster for England and Pakistan; a passage of play that – in the wake of a washed-out second Test – denied the visitors a shot at a first series win in England in 24 years, and set up the hosts for their first against Pakistan anywhere in a decade.
And who knows how much the sting of that failure will linger for Pakistan as they enter the T20 leg of their tour. In ordinary times, a preceding Test series might be rendered irrelevant, but on a tour of close-knit bubbles, isolation protocols and empty stadiums, it might actually be Pakistan’s only true frame of reference.
For England, it’s a strikingly different scenario. A wholly different squad, even down to the management staff, will rock up to Manchester for this leg of their bio-secure summer, and while it might appear that a touch of insouciance has crept into England’s white-ball cricket since they lifted the ODI World Cup last year, with two T20 World Cups in the next two years, there’s no reason for that to extend to the shortest format.
Currently ranked behind only Australia in T20s, Eoin Morgan‘s side have an opportunity to work up handy white-ball momentum before Australia rock up for three T20Is and three ODIs next month, although they will once again be lacking a host of shoo-in names with the likes of Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer all out of contention after their time in the Test bubble – not to mention Joe Root, who is set to feature for Yorkshire in the Blast in a bid to restate his credentials in the shortest format.
England’s most recent form reference is a slightly bonkers T20I series against South Africa in February, where all three T20Is went down to the final over and they just about held their nerve to eke out a 2-1 series win. It kept alive an unbeaten T20I series run that extends to more than two years now, and if they can keep that going over the next month or so, England could truly think of this as, given the circumstances, just about the ideal home season.
If their memories stretch that far, Pakistan would do well to look upon a tour of England four years ago. Well beaten in the ODI series, they approached the one-off T20 with a certain elan that would set the gold standard for T20I cricket in the three years to follow, as they stormed to the World No.1 ranking and put distance between themselves and the rest. England were thrashed by nine wickets, commencing a run from Pakistan which would see them win 29 of 33 T20Is, including 11 consecutive series triumphs.
They’ve come back down to earth with an unseemly splat in the 18 months since – that No.1 ranking is certainly long gone – but a younger side that still retains several characters from those heady days may wonder if they can hit the restart button and go again once more. Babar Azam, now leading the side, and the world T20 batsman rankings, has another opportunity to put his stamp on a team one imagines he’ll feature in for much of the next decade. A series win here would certainly be the most gratifying way to have the last laugh.
England WWLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Tom Banton‘s breathtaking form for Somerset in the 2019 Blast catapulted him into the national team, but in his (admittedly very brief) stint at the top, it hasn’t quite clicked for him. Fifty-six runs in three T20Is against New Zealand were followed by an underwhelming ODI start, and while eight international innings is no kind of sample size, his most recent T20 numbers don’t make the best reading either. The PSL was an immense struggle for him, managing just 74 runs at the top of the innings – 34 of them in one rain-curtailed 12-over match – even as his opener partner Kamran Akmal finished as the seventh-highest runscorer in the league. He ended up being benched, and while the Old Trafford surface won’t quite be the same as any in Pakistan, he will face some of the bowlers who troubled him there. It’s one to watch out for.
Banton’s Peshawar Zalmi teammate Haider Ali was one of Pakistan’s few PSL success stories with the bat, with 239 runs at a strike rate a shade under 160. It followed on from a decent World Cup but it’s not just the numbers when it comes to the 19-year old. The obviously freakish talent, both as striker and stroker of the ball, has led him to reap rewards in T20 cricket as well as first-class. He said recently his batting idol was Rohit Sharma, and while any comparisons would be ludicrous, you can see why the Indian opener is the ideal cricketer for Haider to seek to emulate. The T20 World Cup’s postponement might prove ideal both for him and Pakistan, for if he is to emulate his domestic success on the international stage, he’d be among the first names on the team sheet.
With Jason Roy ruled out by a side strain, Dawid Malan appears set to get another opportunity, having scored 103 not out from 51 balls in his last-but-one outing in New Zealand. Old Trafford has historically favoured spin bowling, so Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid are set to resume their fruitful alliance. England have a wealth of all-round options to bulk out their middle order, but Jonny Bairstow, Eoin Morgan and Sam Billings, who enjoyed a productive run against Ireland, may need to provide the batting ballast.
England (possible): 1 Tom Banton 2 Jonny Bairstow (wk) 3 Dawid Malan 4 Eoin Morgan (capt) 5 Sam Billings 6 Moeen Ali 7 Tom Curran 8 Dawid Willey 9 Chris Jordan 10 Adil Rashid 11 Saqib Mahmood
A dearth of spinners isn’t exactly a problem for Pakistan, with Shadab Khan one of as many as five potential options Pakistan could line up with. Rizwan’s brilliant Test series may be enough for him to retain his T20 slot even with Sarfaraz Ahmed poised to make a first appearance for Pakistan in nearly a year.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Fakhar Zaman, 3 Shadab Khan, 4 Haider Ali, 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Mohammad Rizwan/Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 7 Iftikhar Ahmed, 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Mohammad Amir, 10 Wahab Riaz, 11 Shaheen Afridi
Pitch and conditions
In T20s at Old Trafford since 2017, the overall run rate has been 7.98 runs per over, suggesting 160 might be a par score. Rain is expected through much of the day, but should clear in good time for the game to get underway at 6pm. Persistent rain over the week will mean conditions are damp, which could result in a slow outfield. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see Pakistan open with a spinner, as they did to great success while on that jolly T20 streak.
Stats and trivia
Shoaib Malik is 108 runs away from becoming the first non-West Indian to score 10,000 T20 runs. He needs 31 more to surpass Brendon McCullum, who sits on 9,922.
In all T20s at Old Trafford since 2017, spinners have conceded 1.3 fewer runs per over than seamers. Their economy rate is 7.27, while seamers have seen their overs go for 8.57.
“This is another opportunity for guys who potentially sit outside that 15 to present their best case, moving forward, for winter tours and the World Cup next year. Opportunities like this don’t come around very often when we have our squad at full strength”
England skipper Eoin Morgan challenges his side to make the most of their chances