Against all odds, they allowed us to escape grim realities and engage in the usual arguments over who should get the gloves, the new ball or the thrust. The two teams have been formidable: they have launched poisonous deliveries, they have unveiled breathtaking shots; they were imperfect, loud and passionate. You can’t ask for much more in an empty stadium.Hopefully the excitement can be sustained over the next two tests, even though the series will no longer be decorated with the presence of Ben Stokes, one of the most charismatic cricketers in the world.
The test at Old Trafford was a tough game to lose, brilliant to win. It’s always how a team turns the tables so dramatically to win in four days.
Pakistan were the most tired on Sunday morning, but Misbah-ul Haq and Azhar Ali will remain calm and on the evidence of the first test, the team is fiercely focused on the challenges ahead.
In all likelihood their squad will change less than England’s at the Ageas Bowl on Thursday. Given that England are playing six tests in seven weeks, engaged in some form of rotation and now without their all-round key, this is not so surprising.
The rotation policy was only applied to pacemen – why not the spinners or even the porter? At Old Trafford there were two formal issues to consider, those related to Jos Buttler and Dom Bess. In the end, there was only one. The purist argument for Buttler’s place has some logic. By his own admission he held on poorly and Shan Masood’s fall and miss was underscored by the fact that the first game continued to score 156.
Should a sparkling sleeve allow Buttler to keep the gloves? In a utopian world, the answer may be “no”. In truth, it will be “yes”. This England side is hard enough to balance – especially in the absence of Stokes – without playing two men who can keep the wicket. After Buttler’s innings on Saturday he has to play if only because it was so obvious how much Pakistan feared him when the chase was launched; in which case he keeps the gloves.
The situation is complicated for Ben Foakes and Jack Leach, potential replacements for Buttler and Bess. Since the rotation did not apply to them earlier in this unusual summer testing, the two would enter the squad without knowing if they were in charge of their games. Leach has not played a first-class match since November 2019 in New Zealand and has been beset by a series of health issues; Foakes’ last game was for Surrey last September.
England are unlikely to play two rusty players in their next test squad. The two would enter the fray with understandable reservations; it is unreasonable to expect them to be their best.
It’s much more likely and logical for Leach to be part of the team – at least one bowler has the leeway to make a strange mistake without serious repercussions and he may be able to get back into place, albeit during a test. He should have played a game against the West Indies, not because Bess was complaining, but to keep all options open. Additionally, bowling against right-handed people is a simpler operation for left arm spinners in the modern game.
There will be a rotation among the pacemen although their shape during the last test is relevant. Chris Woakes has to play (not just because of his stick – he was arguably England’s best bowler at Old Trafford even though he only played 25 assists). The other all-rounder, Stuart Broad, whose stick catapulted him into the ICC’s top all-rounder list at number 10, three behind Woakes, will likely play even though it will be his fourth straight game. The force is with him.
Mark Wood may well replace Jofra Archer and there are good reasons Jimmy Anderson is resting but not retiring. He might have looked tired at the end and he was definitely cranky when a hook was knocked over; his numbers may be modest but his bowling alley is always up to par. With Stokes unavailable, Zak Crawley will return to the XI; Sam Curran could, but does Bess give way to Leach?