Press "Enter" to skip to content

England pulled off a miracle in Manchester, now they must find a ruthless streak to rule the world 

England won their third straight Test at Old Trafford in dramatic style on Saturday to take a thrilling 1-0 lead over Pakistan in the second Test series of the summer.

But, with Ben Stokes ruled out of the last two matches for family reasons, England have plenty of issues to resolve if they are to continue their climb towards No 1 in the rankings.

Here, Sportsmail looks at what England must do next…

Ben Stokes has been almost a peripheral figure, by his standards at least, since he won the second Test against West Indies almost single-handedly but injured his thigh in the process.

Perhaps it has not just been his quadriceps but family issues that have subdued him and, desperately sadly, he will not play in the final two Tests.

Stokes is simply irreplaceable and not being able to pick him as a bowler has already played havoc with England’s balance — although he still made a decisive contribution with the ball when half-fit after Joe Root threw it to him almost in desperation on the third evening against Pakistan and he took two wickets.

The most obvious thing to do is recall Zak Crawley at three, let Root bat at four where he is happiest and leave Ollie Pope at five. But there is another batsman in contention — the exciting Dan Lawrence, who is with England in their biosecure bubble. Lawrence had an exceptional winter in Australia with the Lions and needs to play for England as soon as possible if he is to be a candidate to return Down Under for the Ashes in 18 months.

Crawley deserves to play but England could also bring in Lawrence at six to supplement their batting, push Old Trafford heroes Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes down a place each and leave out spinner Dom Bess at the Ageas Bowl. Root would provide spin alongside four seamers. It is not perfect but then nothing is without England’s Mr Incredible.

One of the most painful sights of the summer has been seeing the record-breaking and peerless Jimmy Anderson struggling to make his usual impact.

So lacklustre and downright grumpy did Anderson appear on his home ground during the first Test that rumours started swirling among the few people who were inside Old Trafford on Saturday that he might be contemplating immediate retirement. Thankfully those rumours were false but this really could be the beginning of the end for the best seamer in Test history.

Yes, the banning of saliva on the ball hasn’t helped Anderson find his usual swing this summer, but he has taken just eight wickets at 36 in three Tests, two of them at Old Trafford, and none in any second innings. And, remember, he has twice broken down during Tests in the last year or so at Edgbaston and Cape Town.

Anderson stands at a mighty 590 Test wickets but, with the plan for him to play four of the six Tests this summer, he may only have one game left this year to get the 10 he needs to reach the magical 600. And with question marks over England’s winter programme, there is a possibility he will be stranded in the 590s. Certainly the Ashes in 2021-22 are starting to look a long way away for Jimmy.

Do not be surprised if he misses the second Test, but also do not be surprised if he proves us all wrong and bounces back against India this winter if the series is held, as expected, in the UAE. Anderson has bowled well there in the past against Pakistan.

Yes, it’s a ‘good problem to have’ as sports people always say when they have too many players to pick, but selection for the second Test will give us an indication of what England really believe is their best fast-bowling line-up.

Stuart Broad answered any questions about his right to feature after missing the first Test against West Indies and Woakes, so unassuming he often passes under the radar and is the easy option to leave out, has proved without doubt he belongs alongside him, especially in English conditions.

That’s where it gets interesting. England’s desire to pick at least one bowler of real pace in all Tests with an eye to overseas conditions is understandable but the issue is whether Jofra Archer really is that bowler.

I know we expect a lot from Archer after last year, but there were worrying signs again at Old Trafford that perhaps he is not capable of the short express spells England need from him. Or perhaps that he is not being used correctly by captain Joe Root.

It was mystifying that Archer should bowl just five overs in the second innings against Pakistan after saying Old Trafford was ‘not the sort of pitch you could bend your back on.’ Well, it certainly was for Pakistan’s Naseem Shah. And when Root needed someone to blast the tail away on the third evening, he turned to a half-fit Stokes rather than Archer. Mark Wood certainly is a very quick bowler and has been unlucky to play in just the first Test of this summer after finishing strongly in South Africa. He should be in contention for Thursday if he is fully fit.

Fascinating, too, that England have added the uncapped Ollie Robinson to their bubble. The Sussex man had an exceptional tour of Australia with the Lions and has been prolific in county cricket since moving to Hove after his unexpected release by Yorkshire. Robinson is tall and gets bounce, albeit not at express pace, and would be an intriguing selection against Pakistan.

Jos Buttler probably booked his ticket to the Ashes with his match-winning contribution on Saturday and remains an integral member of the England ‘think tank’ alongside Root and Stokes.

But will it be as keeper? The gifted Buttler admitted in the aftermath of victory that his glovework has to improve after the two misses of Shan Masood that looked like they would cost England the Test. England still desperately want him to fulfil that all-round role but Buttler could be exposed against Sri Lanka and India this winter, when he will have to keep to a lot of spin.

There are plenty of other options, of course, not least Ben Foakes. He is the best gloveman in England — quite possibly the world — and if he is going to keep in the Ashes he must be given a chance by England soon.

Foakes is the best bet for the subcontinent and UAE this winter. There was talk about his ability as a batsman against the short ball last winter but suggestions of a weakness have been denied by those who know him best at Surrey. In any case, England must find out about him as soon as possible.

Jonny Bairstow was unlucky to be consigned to just white-ball cricket. And there is another intriguing candidate. James Bracey impressed at a pre-Test series camp and England believe he has the technique to bat in the top three in Test cricket as well as being a more than competent keeper at Gloucestershire.

England have kept him in the bubble all summer and it would not be a total shock if he leap-frogged Foakes.

England have won the last six Tests that Root has led them in — he missed the first against West Indies on paternity leave — and finally looks like evolving into a decent captain after three years in the job.

But the feeling remains that he is far from a natural leader and has only really avoided criticism of his captaincy because he is such an outstanding batsman and person, and that there really are few alternatives.

And don’t think about giving it to Stokes because it would be too much for him on top of everything else.

Root’s tactics in the field at Old Trafford were baffling, not least his decision to open the bowling on the second afternoon with himself and Bess in advance of the second new ball.

The pressure on Pakistan was released to such an extent that it almost cost England the Test as much as Buttler’s keeping.

Whatever England and Root say, leadership does seem to have an adverse affect on his batting, too, as he so rarely goes on to big hundreds now. And his batting is more important to England than his captaincy. Yes, Root is probably still the best man to lead England in Australia next year, but they should not be reluctant to look at the issue again. As Rory Burns is now a regular pick, he might be a captaincy alternative.

We should not forget in these difficult times that Test cricket is back, Sky have had huge viewing figures, and England are winning. Pakistan may struggle to recover from losing the first Test and England should be fancied to win 3-0 now. The thing is, if they are to win overseas and become the best in the world again, they must be better than this. Starting on Thursday, even without Stokes.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *