It wasn’t meant to happen like this. For any English cricket fans the first test against Pakistan felt like a return to the bad old days of the 1990s: a series of talented batsmen bamboozled and befuddled by a spin bowler who does just enough with the ball to be a nuisance.
Yasir Shah bagged ten wickets in the match at Lords to condemn the Three Lions to a 75-run defeat, and after a period of months in which his side have dominated all-comers Alistair Cook must be scratching his head at how England to return to winning ways after such a heavy caning.
Happily, the cavalry is arriving. James Anderson and Ben Stokes have returned to the squad following injury, and their selection couldn’t come at a better time. Anderson will be able to enjoy the facilities at Old Trafford, his club home, while Stokes is the kind of up front and chest out cricketer that England need in such a situation. The addition of Adil Rashid to the squad will apply much needed pressure to Moeen Ali too for the spinner’s slot; his dismissal in the second innings at Lords was, frankly, village cricket-esque.
Swing is the Thing
We’ve a mini heatwave to enjoy this week in the UK, before heavy showers are forecast in parts of the country on Wednesday/Thursday – Manchester is set to be the lucky recipient of the downpours.
That should help to negate the influence of Shah on proceedings – happy days – while affording England’s seam trio of Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes the luxury of a skiddy surface and a moving ball. The new cherry always tends to swing in Manchester, and with conditions set to be humid and cloudy in the great city this weekend, it is Anderson in particular who should prosper.
He’s been a Lancashire pro for the best part of 15 years now, so there isn’t a blade of grass at Old Trafford that is unfamiliar to the Burnley Express. He took three wickets there in his return after a shoulder injury for Lancs against Durham at the weekend, and will be itching to get back into the international fray this week. Given that conditions look set to be in his favour, a bet at 5/2 on Anderson to be England’s top bowler at 5/2 looks a smart investment.
The good news for England fans is that their side has a fantastic record at Old Trafford in tests: they haven’t lost there since hosting Pakistan, ironically, in 2001. Since then, there have been seven English victories and two drawn tests; including an innings and 120 run thumping of the Green Caps back in 2006. That day the Pakistanis’ inability to play the swinging ball – Anderson took eleven wickets in the match – proved to be their downfall.
Should the weather unfold as expected from Friday onwards – and the Old Trafford groundsmen follow their likely orders of producing a ‘green top’ – then it really will be advantage England, despite what happened in the first test. At a price of Evens, even the most non-patriotic are advised to get involved.
The return of Anderson will ensure an increase in danger with the new ball, and with the Pakistan opening pair – Shan Masood in particular – looking vulnerable at Lords, it is worth a steady punt that England will post a higher opening partnership than their opponents at 4/6.
And if you like long-priced value, why not give Asad Shafiq a go in the Top Pakistan Batsman stakes: he looks very generous at 11/2 given that he notched 73 and 49 in the first test.