England v Pakistan: Amir's fitness and Buttler's credentials key talking points ahead of Lord's Test
Two mid-table teams bidding to improve miserable form in cricket's longest format face off in London on Thursday
Meetings between England and Pakistan in Test cricket in the recent past have generally involved at least one pre-eminent force.
England were the No 1 ranked Test side when they arrived in the UAE in 2012 to face Pakistan. In 2016, Pakistan went top of those standings immediately following their 2-2 draw in England.
And now? Not so much. The two-Test series in the UK pits together two mid-table teams, bidding to improve miserable form in the format.
England went winless through winter tours of Australia and New Zealand. And Pakistan’s win in the lone Test against Ireland earlier this month was just their third win in 12 Tests. Both sides have questions to answer.
Judged by their past three Test matches, Pakistan’s pace bowlers are either really resilient, or really not. It is difficult to tell.
In each of the Tests against Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi (Hasan Ali) and Dubai (Mohammad Amir), plus the one-off match in Ireland (Amir again), pace bowlers were forced from the field by injury mid-over – yet returned to bowl in the game.
It is a weird situation. Usually if an injury is serious enough to keep a bowler from even completing the over they are bowling, it is generally serious enough to force them out of the match, possibly longer.
Maybe Hasan and Amir are quick healers. It must be hoped so in Amir’s case. He hobbled through the match in Malahide, looked barely fit to walk at times, yet has been passed ready for Lord’s.
Pakistan are proud of the fact they have already unearthed new players of substance within three seasons of the Pakistan Super League being a thing.
Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan and Hasan Ali all had their status embellished by playing in the T20 league, and are part of the Test squad in England.
There are others who prove the old route still works, too. Mohammed Abbas has yet to play a PSL match, despite at least earning a contract with Multan Sultans this year.
His Test call came about through weight of wickets in first-class cricket, and he has thrived.
In six Test matches so far, he has managed 32 wickets at 18, and much of that in unfavourable conditions. Those he finds in England might be right up his street.
Can Buttler do it?
So far this month, Jos Buttler has managed 428 runs in six innings, at an average of 70. His strike-rate, as is typical for him, is through the roof. May in London is very different to May in Jaipur, though.
Buttler will have to adjust to a very different rhythm after being called back from the Indian Premier League to make a shock recall to the England Test team.
Ironically, he recently forecast the potential demise of Tests, suggesting there could be a time in the future when T20 is the only form of the game played. As such, it was nice that he was invited to turn out for the farewell tour.
Will he be able to adapt back to the long format? It will be fun watching him try.
Dom the best?
Bowling spin for England has been a harrowing experience for many in recent times. The 11 players who have been tried since Graeme Swann announced his retirement mid-Ashes in 2013 have met with varied scales of success.
The likes of Mason Crane, Scott Borthwick and Samit Patel might still be bearing the scars of their brief tries at Test cricket.
Whatever happens for Dom Bess on his debut at Lord’s, it is likely to be more fun that sofa shopping in Ikea.
That is where the 20-year-old offspinner was when he received the call from England’s national selector Ed Smith telling him he was in.
He got his chance because of injury to Jack Leach, England’s incumbent spinner, and the lack of first-class cricket for Moeen Ali, England most experienced player, who has been at the IPL of late.
Bess has hardly been drowned in first-class cricket himself. He had taken just one wicket in two County Championship matches for Somerset so far in 2018.
Updated: May 23, 2018 07:10 PM