England vs Pakistan: 1st Test Preview (of sorts)

A fundamental difference between the world of the blogger and the world of the journalist is that real life intrudes on our witterings. There are other differences of course, not least that some of the latter have little but contempt for those who dare to write on the game (and it needs to be said that others still find the blogs of interest), but that is probably the principal one.  What it means is that we have jobs and cricket is a side interest.  That side interest both waxes and wanes depending on circumstance, but even when at its zenith it doesn’t mean that cricket – or any other interest – is in the position to take priority.

So it is that in my own case I have been unable to watch more than a few overs in the last month.  It might have been a little bit more were it not for the truly impressive incompetence Southern Rail bring to proceedings, but even if they were capable of such unusual abilities as running a train service, it wouldn’t have been much.  As some know, I was a month in Asia, travelling around Laos, Thailand and Indonesia (minor plug for the blogging results of that – go to http://www.thoughtsonatrip.com), which as work goes is hardly being condemned to working down a pit, but it was work nonetheless.  Returning from there it was a week away working, and after that an actual real life holiday for a week in Turkey.  This week is the first time I’ve had more than two days at home since early May, all of which is a roundabout way of saying two things; first an apology for silence and second to note that I don’t have a clue what’s being going on.

The Sri Lanka series was comfortably won, even the wider points based version that precisely no one gives a stuff about, but my own experience of it consisted of reading the odd newspaper report and Sean’s excellent precis of the action on here.  That means that for this series the pretence to hold is that the approach is one of a fresh mind, open to all possibilities, and the editor’s decision is final on that one.

Having said that, I am also at Lords tomorrow, so anyone who wants to say hello get in touch.  It makes for a curious feeling, one of trying to re-engage – not with the England team, that still seems some distance away which is a saddening truth, but with the game of cricket itself.  For everyone here and beyond does hold that in common, a love for the game and its vagaries and sub-plots.  The presence of Pakistan adds to that, for it has been six years since they were last here, on a tour that will go down in cricketing infamy.  The relationship between England and Pakistan has been anything but smooth over the years but that particular tour was the one that caused considerable damage to the game itself rather than to assorted egos.

Such discord seems rather less likely this time around, barring the odd bout of booing for Mohammad Amir.  As an aside, I will not be joining in any of that, my own view is that once punishment has been served, that is the end of it.  Whether that punishment was appropriate is another matter, and I am as unlikely to cheer him as I would have been to cheer Dwayne Chambers, but that isn’t the same thing as actively expressing displeasure at his presence.  Either way, and assuming nothing untoward happens, it will dissipate both across the day and the series.  The history does not require constant reminders to always be there.

Pakistan cricket has recovered its reputation in the intervening years in large part, and much of the credit for that must go to the captain, Misbah ul Haq a man who receives very little of the credit due to him in his own country, and rather more outside it.  Misbah’s career as a batsman has been impressive enough given his late blooming as a cricketer – one which gives entirely unmerited hope to all forty somethings everywhere – but his leadership of his nation has been a thing of wonder.  Above all else, he has given Pakistan cricket its dignity back, no small achievement considering their continued exile from home internationals.

Misbah himself hasn’t played Tests in England before, something of an irony given a batting line up that is anything but youthful, and despite strong Test records there has to be a question over how it will perform in English conditions.  It is perhaps to the advantage of Pakistan that the first Test is at Lords, where chairman’s pitches have been more frequent than not over recent years.  In any event, while there may be question marks over the batting, the visitors do possess a potent pace attack, and one that will cause England far more difficulty than that of the of the Sri Lankans.

England’s batting is anything but settled, the departure of Nick Compton, the promotion of a Joe Root who hasn’t had the best of summers to date, return of Gary Ballance who hasn’t looked fully at home against pace in his Test career to date, Vince is just starting out and with that Pakistani attack, it is a Test that for the first time this year has a degree of uncertainty about the outcome.  Pakistan are a dangerous side with the ball, and despite potential fallibility in English conditions do at least have a top and middle order of known competence.

This is an intriguing match up, neither side have all options covered, both have significant and obvious weaknesses, both have equally obvious strengths.  As with many sports, the period before it begins is in some ways the best time, with all possibilities open.  May the cricket be the focus, and may it be a proper tussle.  And after tomorrow, I may even know what’s going on.