After a torrid winter in which the Ashes were relinquished with a whimper and Test series defeat in New Zealand was sealed in farcical fashion, England will be relishing a return to home turf.
The sultans of sub-continental cricket, Pakistan and India, will be sending Test-match delegations on a tour of Blighty over the coming months, the latter signing off the summer with a five-match Test series that follows three T20s and as many ODIs.
Compared to that mighty portion, Pakistan’s flying visit – consisting of two Tests and nothing more – is very much an appetiser.
While there was no shorter, early-summer series last year, they are not uncommon in the English cricketing calendar, essentially serving as a warm up ahead of a more formidable foe’s arrival.
Sri Lanka, the Windies and Bangladesh are among the teams to fill this role in recent years, but it’s the first time in a long while an outfit of Pakistan’s clout have provided the hors d’oeuvres on these shores. With out-of-sorts England desperate for a confidence-boosting win, don’t expect their colossal-cricketing-counterparts to prove easily-digested prey.
Pakistan have a good record in England
After failing to prevail in six straight Tests in this country, Pakistan have triumphed over their forthcoming foes in three of the last half-dozen encounters contested over the game’s longest format. The most recent meeting in this sequence saw the raiding party demolish their hosts by 10 wickets.
Zooming out to focus on a wider timeframe reveals that Pakistan have been defeated in only 10 of their previous 29 Test matches in England. None of Australia, India or South Africa – who, alongside the protagonists in question, comprise the Test titans of the modern day – boast a better record over the same number of matches, with the Proteas the only outfit capable of matching it.
Pakistan have a great record against England in general
Pakistan have demonstrated a great talent for taming big cats in recent years, having brought the Three Lions to heel in seven of their last 10 tussles. Starting in 2012, this sequence contains a seven-match undefeated streak, a series whitewash and two 10-wicket routs.
Again, this is a degree of dominance that no other Test-playing heavyweight can match over the same sample size.
Pakistan returned home from their last tour victorious
After successive heavy defeats in New Zealand and Australia, Pakistan halted a losing road run with a 2-1 win against the Windies.
It’s no secret that the artist formerly known as the West Indies are a rapidly failing force in the Test sphere – only Zimbabwe, who rarely dabble in cricket’s longest form, are stationed below them in the world rankings – but they did manage to score a win when touring England last summer.
It proved to be a consolation for the visitors, but the fact that both protagonists in the forthcoming clash were beaten over five days by a side widely-regarded as the worst of all major Test-playing countries underlines their comparable quality.
England’s form is really bad
After making a monumental mess of their second Test in New Zealand, where Joe Root’s troops failed to bowl out the hosts despite having over a day to collect the required wickets, England stretched their winless run to seven matches.
This well-publicised inability to score in what was the bleakest of winters, however, is only the exposed summit of a floating mass of frozen water that has been the scourge of many a seafarer. England have won just five of their last 20 Tests home and away.
In addition to New Zealand and the Windies, Bangladesh are another allegedly inferior outfit who have got the better of them during this dismal run, which also includes five innings defeats and a further four by a margin of more than 100 runs.
Shorter, start-of-summer Tests haven’t brought England much luck of late
Last season saw England skip a summer starter series and dive straight into a main course of four Tests against South Africa. The strategy proved successful, with the Three Lions winning 3-1. A scheduling switch was required too – they’d failed to win four of their previous seven Test matches played in May or June.
This unproductive period includes a 199-run loss to New Zealand and 100-run reverse at the hands of Sri Lanka. Incidentally, England’s last May Test against Pakistan saw the visitors claim the spoils in a convincing 108-run triumph.
There are a couple of things working in England’s favour, though
As mentioned, Pakistan aren’t in the greatest form themselves. After their 2-1 win over the Windies, they lost two Tests in their adopted cricketing homeland of the UAE to notoriously poor travellers Sri Lanka. Prior to that they were beaten in successive series in New Zealand and Australia without winning a match, which figures prominently in a run of nine defeats in 11 outings.
Their adversaries’ wretched record has undoubtedly lifted spirits in camp England, while a relative reliability for getting the job done on home soil is just as likely to have aided the reparation of confidence dented in the winter.
Seven of the previous 10 opponents entertained by Trevor Bayliss’ willow wielders over the five-day format have been vanquished.
Further encouragement can be eked out of the fact that Yasir Shah, a man who has claimed an outrageous 34 scalps and a pair of five-wicket hauls in just six Tests against England, has fallen foul of a hip injury and won’t play.
Another positive for England’s batsmen, most notably Alastair Cook given his recent struggles against left-arm swing bowlers, is that Wahab Riaz has been dropped by the touring party. Riaz, who himself has an impressive 25 wickets in eight Tests against Pakistan’s upcoming opponents, has been left out due to coaching qualms with his work ethic.
The Three Lions certainly have some causes for optimism as they look to end a lengthy winless run, but in no way can Pakistan be dismissed as cannon fodder ahead of this two-Test series.