In these uncertain times with little possibility of cricket, England have successfully hosted a unique Test match summer. In hindsight, Pakistan will feel they missed a chance to win their first Test series in England in the 21st century. They were probably a wicket away from a win in the first Test after which rain interfered in the remaining two Tests to the point that a result was out of the window.
The bandwagon now moves to the T20Is. Only a couple of years ago, Pakistan were the number one ranked T20I side winning 20 out of their 22 games in the 13 months between October, 2017 and November, 2018. However, they have slipped to number four losing eight out of their 12 T20Is since January 2019. The polarised outcomes are a consequence of the way Pakistan have approached the shortest format of the game.
Turning their adopted home (the UAE) into a den, Pakistan used spinners to restrict the opposition side and then hunt down the total. Their spinners bowled at an economy of only 6.4 runs per over from October 2017 to November 2018 which was the second-best amongst all Test playing nations. With a majority of games scheduled in conditions away from home since 2019, the strategy has not worked extravagantly for Pakistan.
The tourists may face the same predicament in England which has been one of the best batting countries in the white-ball format, hence, does not suit their style of play.
In the other camp, England have continued their rise in the format winning eight out of their 12 T20Is since 2019. Contrary to Pakistan, their surge has been based on powerful batting. The series presents a stark contrast of batsmanship between the two nations. Old Trafford, venue for the first T20I, has been a good batting ground in T20Is in England which underlines this contrast.
One can argue that England will be without their batting superstars. Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler will skip the series after featuring in Tests for England during the summer. Jason Roy is also out due to a side strain. However, the trio has played only three out of England’s 12 T20Is since 2019 without the side having to compromise on their run-scoring. Before the ODIs against Ireland, England captain Eoin Morgan rightly called the depth in English cricket’s current white-ball resources the best it has ever been.
Pakistan’s biggest challenge with the bat lies in Fakhar Zaman’s poor form. The man responsible to get Pakistan off to quick starts managed an average of 6.75 in eight T20Is in 2019. His form has left Pakistan reeling. Since 2019, Pakistan has the lowest run-rate (6.9 runs per over) and the third-lowest batting average (22.6 runs per wicket) during the Powerplays amongst Test playing nations.
Pakistan will also need to find support for Babar Azam. The skipper has scored nearly 25 percent of Pakistan’s runs since 2019. The problem is the next best has contributed only 9.5 percent. The difference highlights the over-dependence on Babar. Big totals, which are expected to be the norm in the series, cannot be attained with one performer and Pakistan would be desperate for others to put their hands up.
Though batting takes the limelight in the series, the bowling front also presents a juxtaposition. Pakistan’s wicket-taking ability has been on a downward curve since 2019. They suffer the worst bowling average in the format while England is placed second best.
Match practice can be another factor in the T20I opener. While the England squad featured in the ODIs against Ireland, Pakistan’s T20I squad has only had net sessions, intra-squad games and a long quarantine period heading into the series. Their only practice games on August 26 were also cancelled.
Since their World Cup victory in 2019, England have chopped and changed their ODI and T20I squads on a regular basis to select players for the next ICC event. Their rotational policy ensures everyone in the squad gets a game. Hence, picking a XI for England is a rather tough task, especially in the bowling department.
Probable XI: Tom Banton, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Dawid Malan, Eoin Morgan (c), Sam Billings, Moeen Ali, Tom Curran, Chris Jordan, David Willey, Adil Rashid, Saqib Mahmood
Pakistan’s batting line-up picks itself. Those who appeared in the Tests might be rested for the opener given the last game ended only three days prior to the T20I series.
Probable XI: Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam (c), Mohammed Hafeez, Iftikhar Ahmed, Shoaib Malik, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Haris Rauf/Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Hasnain/Shaheen Afridi/Naseem Shah, Mohammad Amir
The first T20I begins at 10.30 PM IST on August 28, 2020 (Friday)