In about nine hours, England will start a match that might be considered ‘must-win’ for the first time since the final Test of the 2009 Ashes. England have not actually trailed in a series since the 51 all out debacle in the West Indies three years ago, and have only played a Test at 1-1 twice. Both of those were against Australia and both were famous victories. Unfortunately for England, they might find themselves in a situation more closely related to that of the West Indies, where three shirtfronts stymied the attempted comeback. It will be interesting to see how England cope with the pressure now; one of their greatest strengths in the last few years has been winning early and keeping the pressure off. They have coped admirably in the few times when there has been real pressure on them, however, and I am backing them to do the same here.
England will be without the services of Chris Tremlett after he had a recurrence of his back/side problems that kept him out for the latter half of the summer. Whilst it’s a disappointment for him, I think it’s no bad thing for England; I suggested that he ought to be dropped anyway and I was far from alone. There have been conflicting reports on who is going to take his place. I’ve heard some say that Onions is the front runner, whilst others have said it’s a late choice between Finn and Monty based on the conditions. It’s no secret that I’ve backed Onions for a few months now, so I’m hoping he gets the nod. I would not at all be disappointed to see Finn though. He’s a good bowler and tends to take a lot of wickets, I just think Onions is better suited to the conditions.
The batting looks likely to be unchanged, though I don’t think anyone thought that England would make any alterations without being forced by injury to do so. It will be Strauss and Cook’s 100th opening partnership, though they have not bee very prolific over the past year. On a flat deck this may be a good opportunity for them to bring the landmark up in some style, though the first session of the match has not been kind to batsmen in the previous two Tests. England will probably bat first no matter what. I expect Strauss to back himself and his fellows to make runs, but Pakistan have a history of inserting opponents so either way we should see Strauss and Cook walk out to the middle first up. If they can survive the first hour or two they should be able to book in for bed and breakfast, as they say. If they can give the bowlers something at which to bowl I definitely think they can put themselves in a position to win the match. Even on a flat deck it will be hard for Pakistan to amass a huge total; this probably going to be the same English attack that only conceded 550 in two innings on the Adelaide road a year ago. Pakistan can bat better than Australia, but I think they’ll still struggle to get to 400.
The worry for England will be a high scoring draw that will cost them a chance to win the series. Strauss is an inherently defensive captain and we saw him failing to force the issue a couple of times during the series against Sri Lanka in the summer. The rain, which was the biggest factor in those draws, will not come into play this time, but Strauss still must attack more than he usually does. England can lay down a marker by winning this series, but to do that they need to go all out to win this Test.