Sam Turner previews the first Test at Lords, where conditions could be ripe for an upset.
The hors d’oeuvres may have been bland and unappetising, but the main course could prove to be a spicy affair as Pakistan roll into Lord’s this week for the start of a four Test series.
A Sri Lankan side beset by injuries in the bowling ranks and inexperience in the battling line up were dismantled and dispatched by an efficient England who completed a routine 2-0 series by barely breaking out of second gear.
However, there are signs for Alistair Cook’s men more will be required in the capital this week with the arrival of Misbah-ul-Haq’s side who currently sit a place above England in the ICC Rankings despite not playing a Test at home for years.
A bowling attack comprising the reintegrated Mohammed Amir – who remains on the Lord’s honours board for his controversial 6 for 84 six years ago – combative fellow seamer Wahab Riaz and classy wrist spinner Yasir Shah is likely to cause problems for an England line up which continues to cause concern if Cook or Joe Root fail to fire.
The decision to move Root up to three from his favoured position at four is an interesting one by England’s think tank as is the step to recall Gary Ballance to the fold.
The Yorkshireman was one of the fastest 10 men to a thousand Test runs before Australia worked out a technique which saw him unwilling to move towards the ball, preferring to retreat deep into the crease to try and counter the swinging ball.
Reports suggest there have been no major alterations to that method, but a recent ton against Middlesex came at the perfect time for the left hander who selectors hope will add some solidity to an inexperienced middle order.
England face Pakistan without two of their big guns in Ben Stokes and Jimmy Anderson and they could be vulnerable if Amir can get the ball swinging as he did in a recent warm-up game against Somerset.
Should the tourists win the toss and bat first on a pitch described by Stuart Broad as typical of a sub-continent deck then the hosts could struggle against Shah who bagged four wickets in 32 overs of controlled wrist pin at Taunton on his first run out for six months.
Given that England only lead Pakistan 4-3 in Lord’s Tests a good case can be made for backing the tourists at their odds.
In Amir they have a seamer capable of extracting lateral movement as well as gaining extravagant swing and, with a record of 30 wickets at 19.80 in just six Tests in England, the 24-year-old is worth supporting in the bowling honours.