Let’s face it no one ever knows which Pakistani side is going to turn up when they take the field. At the beginning of the first test, Wasim Akram mentioned to one of the other SKY commentators that even the Pakistani side do not know which team is going to turn up. So far Pakistan may just end up shaking off that Stereotype. The coach Mickey Arthur has done an amazing job with them. He said that they trained with Duke balls and tried bowling different lengths too. They prepared for two months. The result has clearly shown. Mohammad Abbas has been exceptional and is well ahead. Amir is behind him. They are looking more fit and agile. Among the top five fielders (including Wicket Keepers); four are Pakistanis and Baristow is there. If Wicket Keepers are taken out of the equation then we are left with five Pakistani fielders. This would have been unheard of.
In the top five batsmen, there are four Pakistani players. Below is the list of the top ten batsmen based on my System.
Ireland has no tests planned so I expect Kevin O’Brien to drop out of the top 10. Babar Azam will also drop out from there because of his injury. The question though is whether the English players will be able to dislodge them by the end of this test or will they have to wait until India. Then, of course, there is the question whether they will be able to keep up with the Indians. If this continues then England is going to have a very tricky summer.
Pakistan dominates the bowling too. Stuart Broad scored only 14 fourteen points. Tim Murtagh scored more points by himself than both of the frontline bowlers.
A point apiece separate the three all-rounders of Thompson, Stokes and Khan. It will be interesting to see how they end up doing.
The battle of the all-rounders is heating up nicely. I define an all-rounder based on the role they have in the team and not whether they batted or bowled. The ICC simply multiplies the batting and bowling points and divides that by 1,000. An all-rounder should be able to get into the team based on his batting or bowling. He is allowed an off day with one of the skills but not with both. A fifty in at least one of the innings and two wickets in each inning is what I would expect. Below is the list of the all-rounders in the three teams so far. Shadab Khan has scored bowling points in situations where spinners have not been able to score anything. He has done well with the bat too. Kevin O’Brien has scored only batting points. He hardly made a contribution in the first innings of Pakistan and did not bowl in the second. I expect a lot from Faheem Ashraf but he keeps disappointing with the ball. I do not have the confidence that he will be able to strengthen the bowling side significantly.
The way I create my top XI is if a match had to take place today then who would be the people available. By this measure injured players and banned players will be left out of the Test XI. I ignore domestic leagues. Retired players are not considered for the Test XI. Similarly players who decide to play only white ball cricket will not be considered. The openers and bowlers were the easy picks. I had to be subjective on the captain, all-rounder and wicket keeper. Below is the Test XI that I picked and the reasons for it. The Test XI after the Ireland match can be found here.
The Openers: Alastair Cook and Imam-Ul Haq were the top two openers. I will not be surprised if Azhar Ali dethrones him.
The Bowlers: Fairly simple again. It was the four best bowlers. Abbas, Amir and Ali from Pakistan and Murtagh from Ireland. I have gone with Shadab Khan as my spinner.
The Top Order: Asad Shafiq was an automatic choice at four. It was more difficult between Joe Root and Haris Sohail. Sohail scored 180 points and Joe Root 123. I decided to go with Sohail. It was tempting to choose Root but Sohail had nearly 50% more points and that was something I could not ignore despite the fact that he has never got a forty in four innings so far. He had a blistering 39 in the 2nd innings of the 1st test against England.
The Middle Order: This was where there was the fiercest competition. The 7th slot was filled because I chose to go with Shadab Khan. Babar Azam would have easily made it at number five. His injury has ruled him out. I still need a wicketkeeper and I needed another bowler. Sarfraz Ahmed and Jonny Bairstow have not played well. They could not get into the team based on their batting. On the other hand, Jos Butler did well with the bat. He has just come back from the IPL where he has kept wickets. Due to this reason, I decided to play him and make him the wicketkeeper. This left one position left. I chose Ben Stokes as the fifth seamer. Kevin O’Brien did well with the bat and so did Faheem Ashraf. Neither of them performed with the ball though.
The Captain: None of the Captains has performed well so far. For this match, I was lucky to have Alastair Cook who was the Captain and a successful one at that. If Cook or the other captains fail to perform going forward then I may have no choice but to pick one of them and drop a better player.
The Twelfth Man: I would probably put Faheem Ashraf as the twelfth man. I need to see more with the ball from him or less from Stokes to have him make the team.
I do not expect everyone to agree with me and would love to know your thoughts.