So we’re back down to the Bramsgrove bowl for the 2nd Test and thankfully this time none of the players decided to have a little detour. Naturally the headline leading up to this Test has been the withdrawal of Ben Stokes for the rest of the series, which of course is a huge blow, but pales into insignificance when dealing with obviously a serious family issue. I was pleased on the whole with the reaction on social media with the majority wishing him well, which of course they should, cricket is a game that has bought us much joy (and agony too) and Stokes has played a major part in that, but family must and will always come first. I believe I can speak for the collective in wishing the Stokes family all the best whatever they are currently going through. It was also sad to see Dan Lawrence leave the squad due to a family bereavement especially when there was a decent chance he might have made his debut; thankfully there is still plenty of time for that whenever he is ready to re-join the fold.
So with Stokes and Lawrence out, this provides Zak Crawley with an opportunity to try and cement his place in the side, as you’d expect him to slide in at number 3 and let Root go back to his favoured position of number 4. I’ve been a little surprised about how much criticism Crawley has had in absentia, with various people on social media highly critical of him whilst suggesting he shouldn’t be in the squad in the first place. Now of course it’s natural for people to push their own favourites, Gary Ballance and Sam Northeast are names that crop up time and again, but I do find the criticism of Crawley a little baffling. He easily outplayed Joe Denly in the 1st Test against the West Indies and after getting a duck in the first innings of the 2nd Test was then asked to throw the bat in the hope of quick runs in the 2nd innings. Personally I’ve been pretty impressed with Crawley, he looks like he has a natural flow to his game that keeps the scoreboard moving and hasn’t really looked overawed by Test Cricket despite being only 21. I think there is definitely enough there to warrant being given a decent crack in the side and I’d certainly pick Crawley over Ballance, who has shown that he hasn’t the technique or the mental fortitude for Test Cricket, every day of the week.
As for the rest of the side, the batting line up now picks itself with Buttler remaining at 6; however the bowling line up is one to watch with interest. Despite the heroics of Buttler and Woakes at Old Trafford, our tail looks awfully long against what is a very good Pakistan bowling line up, so I do wonder if England are tempted to pick Sam Curran to shore up the batting and to offer a bit of variety to the attack, but then who do you leave out with Woakes, Broad and according to Joe Root, Jimmy Anderson all set to play. Jofra Archer seems the most likely to be left out, but if so, there must be a temptation to play Mark Wood, to give England a proper pace option. It was interesting that Root has come out already and said that Jimmy is going to play considering the back to back nature of these matches and the fact that a 38 year old Anderson hasn’t played particularly well all summer. Could it be thought of as misconstrued loyalty to a player who has been England’s finest fast bowler for over a decade but perhaps is no longer in England’s top 3 pace bowlers these days? Naturally it would be wise not to write to Jimmy off as he has proved time and time again that he is a quality bowler, but there will certainly be added pressure and scrutiny if he does indeed play at the Aegeas.
As for Pakistan, it will be interesting to see how they respond after losing a match they both dominated and should have won. Certainly Pakistan teams of the past may have let that affect them mentally after such a loss, so Misbah and his coaching staff will have needed to do a lot of work with the team to get them back in the right frame of mind. I have the upmost respect for Misbah, so if anyone can lift this team back up after Old Trafford, then he would be the man to do it. It will also be interesting to see what the make-up of the Pakistan team is in Southampton, as they looked a little top heavy with Shadab batting at 7 and then not really contributing much with the ball. Dependent on the pitch they made decide to go with the extra batsman, a certain Fawad Alam, who despite having an average of over 50 in Pakistani domestic cricket, has consistently been overlooked for selection. It will also be interesting to see if they shuffle their quicks, as playing the same fast bowlers in 3 Tests in such a short period of time is draining. If they do, then I’d expect Naseem Shah to drop out, not because he isn’t a fantastic prospect, more that they don’t want to injure a 17 year old proper fast bowler by over-bowling him. The last thing Pakistan need is for him to pick up a stress fracture and be out for a long period of time.
So fingers crossed that the storms stay away from Southampton, though I’d quite like them to come to London and we get a full day’s play tomorrow. As ever thoughts and comments are much appreciated.