medanstar

Half Mag / Half Zine

Two uncapped all-rounders have been given the task of supporting Jack Leach in Pakistan this December, with England turning to Liam Livingstone and Will Jacks for the historic three‑Test tour thanks to a paucity of options in the spin department.

Continuity was one of the tenets of a buccaneering summer under the new leadership pairing of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum but the 15-man squad named for the tour – England’s first Test cricket in Pakistan for 17 years – features a number of changes beyond promotions for Livingstone and Jacks.

Alex Lees, who embodied much of England’s recent selectorial loyalty and batted to team orders, is dropped after 10 caps and an average of 23.8 and in come Keaton Jennings and Ben Duckett. The two left-handers, both previously capped at Test level, will jostle for the vacant opener’s spot after commanding campaigns in the County Championship for Lancashire and Nottinghamshire respectively.

Stuart Broad will remain at home on paternity leave, while Matt Potts, 20 wickets in his first five Tests, misses the cut due to an apparent belief his skills are not yet suited to the subcontinent. Unlike Lees, who may cast an envious eye at the retained and contractually renewed Zak Crawley, the Durham right-armer won an increment deal this week and is clearly viewed as one for the future.

Four frontline seamers are in the party with Jimmy Anderson and Ollie Robinson offering guile and Mark Wood and Jamie Overton more pace. The quartet will all look to harness reverse swing where possible – something key to Australia’s 1-0 win in Pakistan this year on the pitches of Rawalpindi, Multan and Karachi.

Four seamers also suggests two-plus-Stokes in the final XI when the first Test begins on 1 December, with rotation thereafter likely. But the chief headache comes when considering how to complement Leach. Pakistan are unlikely to produce surfaces that turn from the off but the slow bowlers may still have to shoulder plenty of the workload before their threat increases later in proceedings.

Not for the first time – and with Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid rebuffing a charm offensive from McCullum – England have had to be creative. The 23-year-old Jacks is primarily an aggressive batter but his off-breaks developed sufficiently to be entrusted as the sole spinner in Surrey’s championship-winning side. That said, his 17 wickets at 47 runs apiece also underlined his status as a work in progress.

Livingstone is also a bit of a Hail Mary and one that also renews the trend of selecting Test players on their white-ball form. The all-rounder suits England’s up-and-at-’em approach and first-class record – 3,069 runs at 38 and 43 wickets at 36 – is not shabby, But having been beamed up to the Indian Premier League and England’s short-form teams in recent times, his last outing with the red ball for Lancashire came in August 2021.

The 29-year-old offers variety at least, bowling finger spin and leg-breaks. For both all-rounders to feature, a middle-order player would have to make way. Jonny Bairstow is already absent due to the broken leg but Harry Brook, his replacement against South Africa last month, is a player England are keen to develop.

Matt Parkinson’s stock appears to have fallen since a surprise debut as a concussion substitute at Lord’s in June, so, too, that of Dom Bess at Yorkshire. The panel – still chaired by Rob Key as he seeks a full-time national selector – appears to have surveyed the broader spin-bowling landscape in England and decided it is as barren as the back of General Melchett’s map.

So much so there is a growing expectation that Rehan Ahmed, the talented 18-year-old Leicestershire leg-spinner who has played three first-class matches, will be part of the Lions squad that offers warm-up opposition for England in Abu Dhabi next month. That he is so close to a Test call-up so young says plenty.

England squad: Ben Stokes (capt), James Anderson, Harry Brook, Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ben Foakes (wk), Will Jacks, Keaton Jennings, Jack Leach, Liam Livingstone, Jamie Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Joe Root, Mark Wood