Football may not be coming home just yet, so we’ll have to make do with the 2021 three-match bilateral T20 series between England and Pakistan.
Doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?
But this series is significant. It represents the next step on the home straight towards this year’s T20 World Cup in the UAE, as England and Eoin Morgan look to fine-tune their outfit ahead of the rescheduled tournament.
What about the squad?
Yes, fair question. After having to self-isolate for the three ODIs, Eoin Morgan and a number of England’s senior, first-choice players are back available for the T20s.
The 16-strong squad was announced yesterday and sees 12 changes made by Chris Silverwood despite the success that Ben’s Babes had in the 50-over contests – winning the series 3-0.
🏴 SQUAD ANNOUNCEMENT 🇵🇰
— England's Barmy Army (@TheBarmyArmy) July 14, 2021
There’s no place for stand-in skipper Ben Stokes, who will likely return to Durham to continue his recovery from injury ahead of the India Test series, but world number one T20 batter Dawid Malan keeps his place.
Saqib Mahmood and Lewis Gregory were two of the standout performers in the ODI series and have earned themselves a call-up for the final white-ball series of the summer. There’s a place too for leg-spinner Matt Parkinson, who has been excellent for both Lancashire and England over the past few months.
After missing much of the games against Sri Lanka due to injury, Jos Buttler returns to the squad but Jofra Archer remains unavailable.
The likes of Sam Curran, Chris Woakes, and Mark Wood all miss out – likely to give them some more rest ahead of the upcoming Test series.
Time is running out for players to stake their claim ahead of the T20 World Cup later this year, particularly for fringe players like Jake Ball, Tom Banton, Mahmood, Gregory, and Parkinson as the next time England name a 20-over squad it will likely be for their series in Pakistan just ahead of the tournament.
Morgan will surely want to use that as a warm-up for the World Cup, meaning he’ll want his first-choice squad playing.
What about their opponents?
While Pakistan aren’t set to make as many changes as their hosts, their personnel will be slightly different for the T20s.
Among the notable inclusions are the experienced Mohammed Hafeez and uncapped 22-year-old big-hitting batter Azam Khan – with the latter impressing in the PSL.
Considering how well England’s ‘2nd XI’ has performed, you could be forgiven for assuming that the first-choice outfit will brush Pakistan aside without breaking a sweat.
Obviously, sport is rarely as simple as that, and Pakistan have historically been one of cricket’s most unpredictable teams but they have looked a yard short so far on this tour. If the tourists are to disrupt England’s preparations and put a dent in their confidence, they’ll have to turn it up a notch.
The starting XI
England’s first-choice T20 XI is one of the most frequently discussed topics among fans and pundits. With so many talented white-ball players at their disposal, the England team has the enviable challenge of trying to find the best combination of a very strong group of players.
It’s a great problem to have but the debate will continue right up until the start of that tournament in the autumn. We could spend another 5,000 words discussing who bats three, who bowls at the death, and who does square leg when there’s only one umpire, but instead we’ll just agree that England are pretty good at this white-ball stuff. Sure, they’ll need to get the combination right if they are to lift some silverware this autumn, but Morgan and Silverwood know their players well enough to get that decision right when it matters.
Possible XI: Buttler (wk), Roy, Malan, Bairstow, Morgan (c), Livingstone, Gregory, Willey, Jordan, Rashid, Mahmood
England are approaching the final stages of their preparation, and we expect them to be right at it here. Pakistan will – or, perhaps, could – represent a sterner test of their credentials than Sri Lanka did but we’re still betting on them to fall short. Morgan’s men are the world’s number one ranked team after all.
England 3-0 Pakistan.