Well, who knew things could get worse for English cricket? Just over a week ago it seemed like their long winter and farcical boardroom shenanigans would be forgotten with a cathartic winning start to the summer at Lord’s — how far from the truth that turned out to be.
Now they travel to Headingley for Friday’s second Test, at least a couple of rungs lower on the crisis ladder, and with a buoyant Pakistan more than capable of forcing them even further down.
After the humiliation at HQ, England have immediately shuffled their pack, making the humane decision to remove the horribly out-of-form Mark Stoneman and replace him with Keaton Jennings.
After a century on debut, Jennings didn’t exactly set the world on fire in his first stint in the England team, but he has been in good form so far this season, averaging 43.79 with two hundreds, and while Nick Gubbins may feel a little hard done by, the selectors have probably made the right call that the current situation is not an ideal one in which to blood another new opening partner for Alastair Cook.
England have more problems than just their openers though, and those have been exacerbated by the fitness cloud now surrounding Ben Stokes — the decision to call up the teenage Sam Curran as cover coming as a big surprise.
Stokes’ loss would have a big impact on the balance of this England side, Jos Buttler’s ‘luxury’ role at number seven would presumably come to an end with a move up the order and an already fairly brittle batting line-up would get even weaker.
They do at least have Chris Woakes waiting in the wings, with it seeming likely that the Warwickshire all-rounder will come in either to replace Stokes or in place of one of the seamers — Woakes’ record in home conditions is excellent and England will be hoping that that continues.
On the batting front, Dawid Malan is a man in need of a big score, an Ashes century has given him credit in the bank, but that is fast evaporating, and the selectors will want him to show that he can be the reliable presence England need in the middle order — something that he has not always suggested.
For Pakistan things are much simpler, they have one enforced change, with Babar Azam’s injury in the last Test meaning that Usman Salahuddin is set to make his debut in Leeds. Otherwise the message from Mickey Arthur should just be for his side to pick up where they left off.
Defying expectations, their fielding was impeccable at Lord’s and this is in particular an area in which they must ensure standards do not slip. And while Pakistan’s performance as a whole at Lord’s was fairly faultless, someone being hypercritical might mark Shadab Khan’s bowling as one area in which they could potentially improve.
Shadab by no means bowled badly in the first Test, but he is undoubtedly capable of better — a significant boost for Pakistan who could yet add spin into the mix of ways they could torture England.
Ultimately it looks like we are set for a thrilling final Test in this two-match series, and while England have recently had a good record of bouncing back after home defeats, the loss at Lord’s felt more affecting to them than most. However, they are playing Pakistan, whose whole modus operandi is consistent inconsistency — can they change that? Once again we won’t have to wait long to find out.
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The England selectors also named six travelling reserves for the first and second matches, to be held at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai from 5 February.
Root and Bairstow got together to thwart the Sri Lankan attack as they put on an unbroken 93-run stand until the close of play.
Mathews built crucial partnerships, including a 117-run stand for the fourth wicket with skipper Dinesh Chandimal who made 52.