There’s been a lot of talk of unprecedented times over the past 18 months or so but never has it been more appropriate than for the England v Pakistan ODI series, which gets underway tomorrow at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff.
A COVID-19 outbreak in the England camp, which saw three players and four other staff members test positive, has ruled out the original squad and forced the Three Lions to name a brand new 18-strong squad for the upcoming series.
Ben Stokes, returning after months out due to a finger injury, will step in as captain for the three-match series, which will be followed by three T20s, as England look to continue their recent white-ball form after demolishing Sri Lanka.
But as alluded to, this is a completely different squad and that will make this series a truly unique one!
A test of just how strong England’s white-ball depth really is
England’s strength in depth in the white-ball formats has long been a talking point among the players, media, and supporters but that is now set to be tested after what has happened over the past few days.
Nine uncapped players were named in the 18-strong squad for the ODI series, alongside some familiar faces like Dan Lawrence, Saqib Mahmood, Dawid Malan, Matt Parkinson, and James Vince.
BREAKING: NEW ODI SQUAD 👇
What an opportunity 😍 pic.twitter.com/wmJhMK2Nue
— England's Barmy Army (@TheBarmyArmy) July 6, 2021
There is no doubt that these 18 have been handed a huge opportunity to impress, particularly with the T20 World Cup just around the corner.
Tear it up over the next week or so and someone could just play their way into Eoin Morgan’s squad for the tournament.
Fringe players like Mahmood, Lawrence, and Lewis Gregory will be keen to roll up their sleeves and showcase their qualities, as will the likes of Brydon Carse, David Payne, and John Simpson – who are perhaps three of the more left-field uncapped selections.
It’s a chance too for Stokesy to flex his muscles as a captain and put his name firmly in English minds as a successor to Morgan – if it isn’t already.
The magic all rounder is just returning from injury himself and is now tasked with leading this replacement squad for what looks set to be a very intriguing series.
What about their opponents?
Even before the events of the last week, Pakistan looked set to pose a significant challenge over the next few weeks.
England steamrolled Sri Lanka but can expect a much bigger test against their next opponents.
Star man and captain Babar Azam is clearly going to be a key player for Pakistan, while we’ve seen the danger that Shaheen Shah Afridi poses firsthand in the past.
There’s undoubtedly an advantage to not having to face the likes of Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, and Adil Rashid, but the chaos of the last week won’t have been easy for Pakistan and will surely have impacted their preparations.
They’re now set to face a side that’ll be stacked full of talent and a fair bit of mystery.
As if this series weren’t intriguing enough already, it will also see the long-awaited return of international cricket in front of a sold-out crowd.
Lord’s have been given permission to have 100% capacity for the second ODI on Saturday, which represents a momentous step toward the return of full houses at stadiums across the country.
The final match of the series at Edgbaston will also be in front of an 80% capacity crowd meaning around 19,000 fans, including a large Barmy Army presence, will be there to roar on the side at our spiritual home – details for our members on that match can be found here.
That should give Stokesy and the lads a huge boost. Don’t worry, we’re working hard on developing the new songs we’ll need!
England’s reluctance to rotate their squad against Sri Lanka in the ODIs showed how determined they’re to pick up as many points in the ICC Cricket World Cup Super League – the new tournament that serves as part of the qualifying for the 2023 World Cup – as possible and it’s not going to be easy for them over the next week.
As Stokesy put it in an interview with Sky Sports recently, “no matter what name is on the back of an England shirt we’re walking out as the World’s number one team”.
Just like the stand-in skipper, we’ve got real faith in the strength in depth of our white-ball options, and with bigger crowds in support it’s hard to see past a home victory.