Monday March 27, 2023

England eye whitewash as Pakistan hope to restore pride in dead rubber

December 17, 2022

KARACHI: It’s a dead rubber. But neither Pakistan nor England are likely to treat the third and final Test, which begins here on Saturday, as one.

England might have won the three-Test series after flooring the hosts on flat tracks in Rawalpindi and Multan but Ben Stokes and his men would love to become the first visiting team to whitewash the Pakistanis 3-0 in their own backyard. It will certainly be a unique feat and this all-conquering English side is unlikely to squander a perfect opportunity to end a stunningly successful tour with yet another record.

Pakistan might have already lost the series and their chance to qualify for the World Test Championship final but they too have a lot to play for perhaps much more than their rivals. They would be playing for pride after succumbing to English onslaught in the first two Tests. Babar has already become the first Pakistan captain to lead his side to back-to-back Tests defeats at home against England. He wouldn’t want to suffer the ignominy of becoming the first Test captain to lead them to a 3-0 whitewash.

But on current form, England look set to achieve a 3-0 rout, something that sounded almost impossible before the series started. They have the momentum. They have the batting prowess and they have exhibited the ability to take wickets even on seemingly benign tracks.

Pakistan would need to find ways and means to counter a rampaging English side at the NBP Arena, formerly known as the National Stadium.

Back in 2005, when England last visited Karachi for a Test, they recorded a narrow win in near darkness. Then they were hardly favourites to win the Test. This time they are.

Pakistan’s woes have been compounded by yet another injury in their camp. Having lost their leading pacers Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf to injury, Pakistan learned on Friday that they would be without opener Imam-ul-Haq, who is nursing a hamstring problem. Imam’s exit would create a place for another left-hander, Shan Masood, who would be looking to make his presence felt in his hometown.

Meanwhile, Pakistan were yet to decide on the fate of veteran Azhar Ali, who is expecting to end his prolific Test career with a memorable swansong in Karachi, Pakistan’s favourite Test venue.

Azhar, 37, who was dropped after failing to impress much on Pindi’s featherbed, announced his international retirement on Friday saying that the Karachi Test would be his final appearance for Pakistan. However, Babar refused to confirm that Azhar would be in the playing eleven.

There were no such issues for rookie leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed who will become England’s youngest ever Test cricket on Saturday.

Stokes confirmed on Friday that Rehan, who has just played three first-class matches, would be replacing Will Jacks in the line-up. Rehan, who has Pakistani roots, will be 18 years and 126 days old on Saturday, beating Brian Close who was 18 years and 149 days old when he made his debut for England against New Zealand in Manchester in 1949.

Rehan is seen as a promising leggie with a flair for big-hitting. He will fit perfectly in an England side which has shown a T20-like batting approach to this series with great success.

Karachi’s wicket is expected to be more bowler-friendly than the ones in Pindi and Multan. Stokes hoped so.

“We’ve taken a look at the wicket as well, which looks very dry, I personally think it might spin a bit more than it did in the last Test match,” he told reporters on Friday.

Babar agreed. “The wicket looks dry and it’s a typical Karachi pitch,” he said. “We will try to have a good result for us. We committed mistakes and matches were in our hands, so we must not repeat them.”

Pakistan are set to hand a Test debut to pacer Mohammad Wasim Junior. He is likely to replace Mohammad Ali, who failed to impress much in the previous two Tests. Ben Foakes will return to the English eleven after recovering from illness while Jimmy Anderson will be rested.

Teams (likely)

Pakistan: Shan Masood, Abdullah Shafique, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam (captain), Saud Shakeel, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Nawaz, Zahid Mahmood, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Abrar Ahmed.

England: Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ollie Pope, Joe Root, Harry Brook, 6 Ben Stokes (captain), Ben Foakes (wk), Rehan Ahmed, Ollie Robinson, Jack Leach, Mark Wood.