All eyes will be on Mohammad Amir as England host Pakistan in the first of four Test matches at Lord's.
Mohammad Amir will return to England nearly six years after the spot-fixing scandal that threatened to end the then 18-year-old’s career.
The young seamer will be keen to silence the English boo-boys as he and his Pakistani teammates look to get gain the upper hand in the first of four Tests to be hosted at Lord’s.
England vs Pakistan | Thursday 14 July – Monday 18 July | Lord’s | England
To Win Match
England 17/20 | Draw 9/4 | Pakistan 33/10
The English were never really tested in their recently-concluded Test series against Sri Lanka. They breezed past the Islanders in the first two matches before the third match was drawn following a series of rain delays. While Trevor Bayliss and his men would have taken some confidence from that series, the Pakistanis are a much more settled and accomplished Test unit.
They come into this series largely unchanged with the woefully out of form Nick Compton being left out in favour of Gary Ballance while Jimmy Anderson makes way for the uncapped Toby Roland-Jones. Ballance is now a doubt for the first Test after complaining of tightness in his groin following a domestic T20 match last week. The news comes as a relief for many English fans who still don’t believe that Zimbabwean-born batsman isn’t technically astute enough to play at this level, with many calling for Jason Roy or Scott Borthwick to get a run in the side.
Aside from those two changes, however, the squad pretty much remain unchanged. Alistair Cook will be looking to build on two solid scores in the final Test against Sri Lanka in which he claimed 85 in the first innings before falling one short of a half-century in the second.
Another man who will be keen to keep building up his Test stock is Alex Hales. The Nottinghamshire opener has underlined his credentials as a Test batsman over the last year or so, often outscoring his captain at the top of the innings. That said, he still has a fondness for throwing his wicket away when he’s in the 70s or 80s, something that will need to change if he wants to viewed in the same light as the likes of Cook and Hashim Amla.
While their batting looks solid enough, the English bowlers will be tested against the Pakistanis who have already put in some good batting performances against Somerset and Sussex in the two warm-up games prior to the start of the series. Stuart Broad will lead the attack with Chris Woakes, Steven Finn playing lieutenant roles. Moeen Ali remains their only solid spin option with Joe Root able to do a job if need be. It’ll be interesting to see who cracks the nod as the fourth seamer – Roland-Jones and Jake Bell are both in the squad, although one feels that there will only be room for one of them in the starting XI.
Pakistan will be keen for a repeat of their 2-0 series win over the English in the UAE in October of last year. The spine of the team that got the job done in Dubai and Abu Dhabi remains in place with Mohammad Hafeez, Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq and Younis Khan making up one of the best top and middle orders in Test cricket at the moment.
While there will be some talk about the strength of the Pakistani batting line-up, all eyes will be on Mohammad Amir as he returns to the country where he was nailed for spot-fixing in 2011. Since his return to the national side earlier this year, the Punjab-born bowler has been magnificent. He excelled in Pakistan's warm-up game against Somerset taking three wickets in the first innings and striking once in the second.
So strong was his performance against the County side that Marcus Trescothick said: “You get a lot of bowlers who swing it quite early but he was swinging it late. That bit of extra pace is the thing. He hasn't played international cricket for a number of years so there's probably an extra bit of zip that he has that makes him hard work. As it was coming down the pitch you were almost guessing whether it was an in-swinger or whether it was one of the straight ones. On that performance, yes, he will cause problems for England."
It’ll be interesting to see how the Pakistanis get on in England. Luckily for them, the first match is being played at Lord’s where the pitch is notoriously flat and easy to bat on. Much of Pakistan’s hopes of success will rely on how well the likes of Amir and Wahab Riaz bowl at the English top and middle order.
Verdict: Draw 9/4
I simply can’t separate these two. I’m tempted to back the Pakistanis as their 33/10 price tag suggests magnificent value. I just think that the flat wicket combined with two excellent batting line-ups means that this game will end in a draw. Plenty of value here at 9/4 – get on!
Value Bet: Jonny Bairstow to top score (England first Innings) at 6/1
The English wicket-keeper is in the form of his life at the moment and will be looking to build on a magnificent series against Sri Lanka - some fantastic value here at 6/1!
Written by Jason Dewey for @Hollywoodbets.