Pakistan grapple with selection predicament as fired up England eye strong start
Pakistan enter the much-anticipated Test series opener against England with several questions over what the final composition of their playing XI would be.
When the Men in Green step out onto the field at Old Trafford on Wednesday, it will indeed mark their first dose of international cricket after an extended gap of five months.
This enforced break due to the coronavirus pandemic deprives Pakistan of the match practice their opponents have been able to experience in their triumphant Test campaign against West Indies last month.
Pakistan have generally been good travellers to England, drawing the Test series on both of their last two tours of the country.
In order to maintain this impressive record and stave off the threat posed by a charged England line-up, it is imperative that Pakistan get their selection right for the clash.
The main issue the tourists have to address is the option of playing two spinners or preferring to employ a seam-dominated attack.
It will be hard to ignore the exploits of Sohail Khan across the two warm-up games leading up to this match and his tally of two five-wicket hauls during the 2016 trip to England bolsters his case for selection.
However, Pakistan seem inclined towards the regular pace trio of Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mohammad Abbas. Sohail's inclusion in place of one of these speedsters could thus disturb the rhythm of the bowling line-up.
The other probing dilemma relates to a battle between Fawad Alam and all-rounder Shadab Khan for the No. 6 spot in the batting order. Fawad's last Test appearance arrived ages ago when Mohammad Yousuf was still an active cricketer but the weight of his runs in domestic cricket pushes him in the spotlight.
Despite Fawad's status as a domestic giant for many years, he could be resigned to his fate once again since Shadab's leg-spin adds bowling depth to the side and he shows promise with the bat with three Test fifties under his belt.
Meanwhile, England will potentially be forced to tinker with their combination with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the bowling fitness of star player Ben Stokes.
England thrived in the final Test against West Indies with a four-pronged pace bowling attack and a solitary spinner in Dom Bess. But this strategy makes their batting vulnerable and the team cannot afford to realistically expect Stuart Broad to bail them out of misery with a counterattacking knock like the one he unleashed in that game.
On the bowling front, England's pacers are second to none as they possess a wealth of talent warming the bench that can fill up any slot available in the playing XI, making it easier for the selectors to implement a suitable player rotation policy.
Pakistan: Azhar Ali (c), Babar Azam, Abid Ali, Asad Shafiq, Fawad Alam, Imam, Kashif Bhatti, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Rizwan, Naseem Shah, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Shan Masood, Sohail Khan, Yasir Shah
England: Joe Root (c), James Anderson, Jofra Archer, Dominic Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Sam Curran, Ollie Pope, Dom Sibley, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood