SOUTHAMPTON: England skipper Joe Root has backed James Anderson to hit peak form again, saying on Wednesday that the pace bowler’s spot in the team was not in question ahead of the second Test against Pakistan starting on Thursday.
Anderson, England’s most successful Test bowler with 590 wickets, has endured a frustrating summer with six scalps in his last three games and recently quashed speculation that his career was drawing to a close.
Root said the 38-year-old would get an immediate chance to put things right when they face Pakistan at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, as the hosts look to go 2-0 up in the series.
“To question Jimmy’s ability, his record ... do that at your own peril,” Root told a news conference. “There’s a reason he’s got so many wickets over such a long period — he’s a consistent performer. I don’t think it’ll be long until he’s back among the wickets big time.
“It’ll be very silly for us to write someone like Jimmy off. He’s still as dedicated as ever, working hard at his game and looking good in practice.”
Root said Anderson had spoken to him about his form during the first Test.
“We had an honest conversation ... to get that off his chest and to talk about it has helped him,” Root added. “It shows even the greats of the game still have those days when it doesn’t always come as naturally to you ... it can be a real struggle sometimes.
“It’s easy to look at the statistics and not have a more broad view on how things are actually going. Wouldn’t you give him the opportunity with nearly 600 wickets?
“To get that stuff off his chest and talked about has definitely helped him. With Jimmy it won’t be long before he’s right back at the peak of his powers and I’m very much looking forward to him performing this week.”
England earlier named uncapped seam bowler Ollie Robinson in their 14-man squad to replace all-rounder Ben Stokes, who has been ruled out of the remaining two games of the three-match series for family reasons.
Sussex paceman Robinson made his first-class debut in 2015 and has played 57 matches. The 26-year-old trained with the squad during the West Indies series and took eight Hampshire wickets during his subsequent appearance in the Bob Willis Trophy — the first-class competition that is replacing the County Championship in a season cut short by the novel coronavirus (Covid-19).
Another victory will clinch England a first Test series against Pakistan in 10 years and a second series of this pandemic-affected summer, having already beaten the West Indies but Root’s team has issues to address.
For starters, Stokes’s absence deprives England of a player who often digs the team out of trouble with ball or bat and will lead to a more specialist batsman, likely Zak Crawley, being added to the lineup.
Jos Buttler should keep his place despite missing three chances behind the stumps in the first innings — two against opener Shan Masood who went on to make 156. The wicket-keeper also made amends for a falling batting average by scoring a crucial 75 as England successfully chased down a target of 277. His batting is set to ensure he staves off being replaced by fellow gloveman Ben Foakes despite his rival typically being more accomplished behind the stumps.
Another problem area for England is the poor form of Jofra Archer. He has been used to open the bowling and as first change this summer, but Root gave English crickets new star only five overs in the second innings of the first Test.
England seem increasingly unsure of how to get the best out of Archer, who has been overshadowed by Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes in recent weeks.
So it will be intriguing to see what pace attack England goes with and the same applies for Pakistan as the tourists seek a way back into the series after letting the advantage slip at Old Trafford.
Pakistan opted for an additional leg-spinner in all-rounder Shadab Khan, who was utilised for only 11.3 overs in the two innings, and retained his spot in an unchanged 16-man squad while about a recall for Faheem Ashraf, a left-handed batsman who bowls right-arm medium-pacers.
But the tourists are contemplating playing a sixth specialist batsman in Fawad Alam, the left-hander who has yet to add to his three Test caps earned way back in 2009.
Azhar Ali, meanwhile, will be under scrutiny for his captaincy and his batting after underwhelming with both in the first Test.
It can be argued he was too cautious while defending a sizeable target of 277 runs on a wearing pitch, with Pakistan letting the game slip away despite reducing England to 117-5 on the fourth day as frontline leg-spinner Yasir Shah was held back nearly 40 minutes after tea. Before that, Pakistan could have easily batted England out of the game after getting a 107-run lead in the first innings.
Meanwhile, Azhar’s batting form is in sharp decline, with the captain scoring only 139 runs in his last 12 away Test innings, without a single half century. That run includes three ducks, the last one in the first innings at Old Trafford.
“After playing international cricket for 10 years, I understand when I need to take certain decisions,” Azhar said. “When I bat, I’m not thinking about the captaincy, whether or not I’m out of form. And when I’m captain, I don’t think about my batting at all, whether I scored a 100 or 0.”
ENGLAND: Joe Root (captain), Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Dom Bess, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Sam Curran, Ollie Robinson, Mark Wood.
PAKISTAN: Azhar Ali (captain), Shan Masood, Abid Ali, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Rizwan, Shadab Khan, Yasir Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Fawad Alam, Sohail Khan, Imam-ul-Haq, Kashif Bhatti.
Umpires: Richard Kettleborough (England) and Michael Gough (England).
TV umpire: Richard Illingworth (England).
Match referee: Chris Broad (England).
Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2020