Whilst the Pakistan cricket team descends further into chaos after more corruption allegations this time involving Wahab Riaz and two heavy defeats in the Twenty 20 internationals (even Shahid Afridi admits that captaining the side is ‘very hard’), England will be looking to put the final pieces of their World Cup jigsaw in place today when the one day series starts.
It is sometimes hard to believe that it is only a year since England reached their nadir in one day cricket when they were smashed to kingdom come by Australia in the Nat West Series that followed the Ashes. Since then of course, England have adopted a more positive and aggressive approach, which has paid off in spades. An improved performance in the Champions Trophy was followed by series wins in South Africa and Bangladesh, before revenge was gained against the Australians in the Nat West Series earlier in the summer.
However, there is still some work for Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss to do as evidenced by the poor defeat to Bangladesh at Bristol and the two dead rubber losses to Australia when a 5-0 whitewash had looked on the cards. Flower and Strauss also need to put the finishing touches to their first choice XI and doubts still remain over who will open the batting with the captain, who bats at six, who will keep wicket, who will be the second spinner and which seamer will join Stuart Broad and James Anderson in the attack.
Who opens with Strauss?
The rags to riches to rags again story of Craig Kieswetter means that the selectors have decided to opt for Surrey keeper Steven Davies for the five matches against Pakistan. Presumably Davies will open the batting with Strauss, so he could prove a like for like swap with Kieswetter. Davies is arguably a better keeper than Kieswetter, but whether he is the aggressive opener that will be needed for sub-continental pitches is another thing. Ravi Bopara is another possible candidate to open the batting, but may be better at number six.
The middle order
Assuming that either Davies or Kieswetter will eventually win the selectors vote to partner Strauss, that means the four middle order places can be filled by batsmen. The decision to drop Kevin Pietersen from the squad gives Jonathan Trott, who currently averages over 70 in ODI, another chance to nail down the number three spot. It is hard see England going without Pietersen in the long-term, so with Eoin Morgan and Paul Collingwood probably also racing certainties for the World Cup XI, that leaves Trott, Bopara, Ian Bell and Luke Wright battling for the final batting spot. Bopara is arguably best suited to the number six spot as he can bat in several gears and is also a useful medium pace bowler, but if Trott keeps getting the runs (if you pardon the pun) then he will be hard to ignore.
Michael Yardy seems to have the vote of the selectors for the second spinner position and his batting adds another string to his bow. He is not a great spinner of the ball, but his darts have proved pretty effective. Two spinners will be required on sub-continental pitches, so maybe the selectors have missed a trick by not blooding Adil Rashid (maybe at the expense of Wright?) to provide them with another option here.
Broad and Anderson, but which other seamers?
With Graeme Swann, Broad and Anderson nailed on certainties for the World Cup XI that leaves one spot open. Given that the selectors have chosen not to give Steve Finn a try in the 50 over format, it would seem that the choice boils down to Ryan Sidebottom, Tim Bresnan or Ajmal Shahzad. The latter would seem best suited for sub-continental pitches but he is also the least experienced of the three and the selectors seem to like the whole-hearted but limited Bresnan.
Our prediction for the Pakistan series
Pakistan’s current problems mean that they are unlikely to cause England too many problems during the series. However, it should be interesting to see how the 6’10” (or 7'1" depending on which PCB press release you believe) fast bowling giant that is Mohammad Irfan fares. With Umar Akmal, Afridi and Saeed Ajmal all being excellent one day players, Pakistan should win one game despite the chaos enveloping their party. So we go for a 4-1 series win for England.