Fresh from a dull 2-0 stroll over Sri Lanka, England are back in ODI action tomorrow, against a better Pakistan side. However, of the side that beat Sri Lanka, a total of zero players are retained in the squad, after the announcement on Tuesday morning that three players and four staff members had tested positive for Covid-19, meaning all in the group are currently isolating.
While massively disruptive, our first thoughts go to those infected, and we wish them a quick and healthy recovery.
In response to the cases, Chris Silverwood, due to take some time off, is back to coach the side, with the injury-recovering Ben Stokes returning to captain the new side.
And a new side it certainly is! The now 18 player squad features nine uncapped players, ranging from young talent like Will Jacks (22) to county veteran John Simpson (32).
Two names returning to the England set-up are Jake Ball and James Vince, who both continue to impress on the domestic scene, without cementing an international place.
Dawid Malan, who left the ODI squad for the Sri Lanka series for personal reasons returns to the squad.
The squad's announcement saw a few players leave county championship matches they were currently playing, including Ben Duckett, who was 69* overnight for Nottinghamshire against Derbyshire. Having played for all three formats internationally for England, Duckett, at just 26, will want to remind the selectors of his talent, having last played an ODI in 2016.
Duckett has been in good form for Nottinghamshire this season, averaging just under 40 in the County Championship, with two fifties in the Blast as well, striking at 153.08. Presuming he is wicket-keeper ahead of Middlesex's John Simpson, I'd expect Duckett to have a good series.
Another returning player is Danny Briggs, the Sussex spinner, who played his only ODI in 2012. While his List A record is poor, a couple of good years in the Blast, and an economy of 7.41 in 45.5 Big Bash overs this winter see him recalled.
With all of England's bowlers absent, Lancashire duo Matt Parkinson and Saqib Mahmood look set to finally get their chance in England colours. The 24-year olds have played 14 white-ball games for England between them, with Parkinson turning into a high-quality leggie as understudy to Adil Rashid, and with Mahmood's pace and movement highly rated, as he finished as the leading wicket taker in the first half of the 2021 PSL.
The two most noted absences from the side are Alex Hales and Sam Hain, both for different reasons.
Hales, the destructive opening bat, has not played for England since March 2019, and was dropped shortly before the 2019 World Cup after failing a second drugs test, allegedly due to the use of cocaine.
With trust broken, Hales was axed after senior players, including captain Eoin Morgan, along with Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Joe Root, Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali deemed that he could not play. Hales has not been involved with England since.
Whether or not you agree with this decision, it, on first viewing, appears mad that Hales does not make an ODI side missing it's normal players. But, if trust has not been found after two years, I don't see how it could be found overnight.
25 years old, and with a List A average of 59.78, Sam Hain is very unlucky to miss out. The reasoning will be his strike-rate, which is 86.46. Decent, but in an era of 300+ scores, not quite good enough.
Fortunately for Hain fans, he does seem to be making progress in this area, striking at 140.19 in the Blast so far this year. If he brings that form into the 2021 Royal-London One-Day Cup, then a call up is likely close.
Given England's selection of Craig Overton in multiple squads, I expect him to play, along with David Payne for the left arm angle, and Lewis Gregory as an all-rounder. Batting wise, Duckett ought to play ahead of Simpson as the keeper, and Dawid Malan is likely to start as well, given his T20I record.
Explosive Phil Salt has been on the fringes for a while, so I think he'll open, and Dan Lawrence has started his Test career well, and so may be rewarded with an ODI cap. James Vince could also return, although this is a big guess.
England's possible XI:
B. Stokes (c)
B. Duckett (wk)
I'd make a few changes to this. Will Jacks ought to open, given his enourmas hitting potential, and despite a mediocre List A record, Zak Crawley's 2020 and 2021 Blast form means he should play for me. I like Stokes at three, but don't think it's quite possible in this side. Bowling wise, I want to see Durham's Brydon Carse have a go, so pick him as well.
B. Stokes (c)
B. Duckett (wk)
While this is a very exciting opportunity for fresh talent to get a go, they will be up against a good Pakistan side, who ought not be underestimated. While they were hammered 4-0 in 2019, just before the World Cup, they've since beaten Sri Lanka at home and South Africa away, and possess high quality players.
Captain Babar Azam is sure to score runs. He has 13 hundreds in 78 ODI innings, averaging a whopping 56.83! His record is similar in English conditions, averaging just over 50, and against an England bowling attack with few international caps, he'll want to cash in.
The pick of the Pakistanis though is Shaheen Shah Afridi. The tall left-arm quick bowls fast, and with movement when opening the bowling. And at the death, he's one of the best in the world, able to routinely clatter the base of the stumps with his yorkers. He can offer loose deliveries, but more often than not he takes wickets, and will likely prove a challenge for such a raw batting line-up.
Hasan Ali, who is another impressive new ball bowler, will cause England's batters problems, but will also challenge the hosts with the bat. He has an ODI strike-rate of 120.93, and in all t20 cricket, has hit 25 fours, and 25 sixes. Coming in with a few overs to go, he will likely hit some late runs.
Probable Pakistan XI:
Babar Azam (c)
Sarfraz Ahmed (wk)
Shaheen Shah Afridi
This series should be exciting, with lots of young English players given the opportunity to make their case to the selectors. It is unlikely Eoin Morgan will play the 2023 World Cup, so a spot in the ODI top six is up for grabs. And England are yet to decide on a second spinner, or find a Liam Plunkett replacement. A century or five-for and anyone of these players and they could find themselves a regular part of the England white-ball set-up.
And yet, Pakistan, while always inconsistent, should be confident of a series victory. There is potential in this England squad, but it is untested at international level. And the last time these two sides met in an ODI, Pakistan won, in the early stages of the 2019 World Cup. With England having only won half of their ODI Super League games, a 3-0 for Pakistan would see them unseat England, go top of the table, and close to automatic World Cup qualification.
I think that, as exciting as seeing some of these players get the call-up is, England will struggle in this series. The depth and talent is there, but converting that into a series win, with all bar Stokes and Malan lacking international experience will prove challenging. So, I predict a 2-1 win to Pakistan.
The England squad in full:
Ben Stokes, Jake Ball, Danny Briggs, Brydon Carse, Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Lewis Gregory, Tom Helm, Will Jacks, Dan Lawrence, Saqib Mahmood, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Matt Parkinson, David Payne, Phil Salt, John Simpson and James Vince.
And the Pakistan squad:
Babar Azam, Shaheen Afridi, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Hasan Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Hasnain, Shadab Khan, Sohaib Maqsood, Mohammad Nawaz, Usman Qadir, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Rizwan, Agha Salman, Abdullah Shafique, Saud Shakeel, Haris Sohail, Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman.
The first game starts at pm tomorrow, held in Cardiff.
The second ODI is at Lord's on Saturday the 10th, with play due to start at 11am.
The series will finish at Edgbaston on Tuesday, with a 1pm start.
The games will be shown live on Sky Sports, with radio commentary available on BBC Radio 5Live Sports Extra.
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