Virus hits England, makes start of series opener doubtful

Published December 1, 2022
RAWALPINDI: Pakistan captain Babar Azam (R) and head coach Saqlain Mushtaq (C) inspect the pitch ahead of the first Test at the Pindi Cricket Stadium on Wednesday.—AFP
RAWALPINDI: Pakistan captain Babar Azam (R) and head coach Saqlain Mushtaq (C) inspect the pitch ahead of the first Test at the Pindi Cricket Stadium on Wednesday.—AFP

RAWALPINDI: Amid all the hype building up prior to the revival of Pakistan’s home Test contests against England after 17 years, uncertainty over the commencement of the series emerged here on Wednesday when an unspecified virus struck down several players of the English team.

In this unexpected scenario, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said it was in touch with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), and declared late on Wednesday that both the boards had unanimously agreed to delay the decision on starting the first Test, which is due to begin at the Pindi Cricket Stadium on Thursday, until 7:30am Pakistan time today.

Captain Ben Stokes is among several England players who skipped Wednesday’s optional training session after being laid low by the bug.

Based on the medical advice from the England doctors, the PCB and ECB made the decision which revo­lved around the players’ health and welfare, agreeing that the touring team is able to select an XI for the first of the three ICC World Test Championship matches, a PCB statement said.

“The two boards also agreed, subject to the England players not recovering well enough to take the field on Thursday morning, then the Test will commence on Friday and will be a five-day match. In this scenario, the schedule of the second Test in Multan and the third Test in Karachi will remain unaffected and will be played as per original schedule i.e. Dec 9-13 and Dec 17-21, respectively,” the PCB statement added.

Earlier, ECB spokesman Danny Reuben clarified that “13-14 of the squad members, including six to seven players are suffering from a virus which is not related to food poisoning or Covid related”.

Joe Root, Zak Crawley, Harry Brook, Ollie Pope and Keaton Jennings were the players at training on Wednesday, while head coach Brendon McCullum was also in attendance. All of the squad, who have brought their own chef, had trained on Tuesday.

Former England captain Root, world’s top-ranked Test batter, hoped the virus-related illness would not last long.

“As far as I know, a few players are not feeling 100%,” Root told a news conference. “I didn’t feel great yesterday and I woke up a lot better today. So, hopefully, it’s a 24-hour virus. Don’t think it’s like food poisoning or Covid or anything like that.

“We are trying to do absolutely everything right to make sure we are prepared for this game.”

England have named their starting 11, giving a Test debut to Liam Livingstone and recalling Ben Duckett to open with Zak Crawley.

ENGLAND batter Joe Root speaks during a press conference. —Tanveer Shahzad/White Star
ENGLAND batter Joe Root speaks during a press conference. —Tanveer Shahzad/White Star

PAKISTAN EYEING WTC FINAL

Meanwhile, Pakistan skipper Babar Azam said the home team were eyeing a place in the World Test Championship (WTC) final by winning the series against England.

Pakistan are currently fifth in the nine-team WTC and can qualify for the 2023 final if they clinch the series against England, presently seventh on the WTC table, 2-0.

Babar and his men also have a two-match home series against New Zealand next month.

“We are excited about that prospect of playing the WTC final,” Babar said while addressing a news conference on Wednesday.

“This is an important series. We have a golden chance to achieve that if we win four of the five Tests to come,” added Babar.

So far, Pakistan have earned 56 points from nine Tests in the WTC, winning four, losing three and drawing two.

Australia (84) lead the WTC points table.

Babar said his players had prepared well for the series.

“We had around a week to prepare for this series, so that was great and gave us some edge and momentum. The best thing was that domestic first-class matches were on; some of the [national team] players were already playing red-ball cricket.”

The Pakistan skipper said the Pindi Cricket Stadium pitch traditionally helped fast bowlers early on, and spinners later.

“Therefore, we will go with a good combination of both spin and fast bowlers,” he said. “We have been getting useful support from [batting coach] Mohammad Yousuf, who constantly guides [the] batsmen.”

Babar refused to admit Pakistan, who were missing their fast bowling spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi with a knee injury, lacked experience in bowling.

“England definitely have an edge in bowling due to [experienced] James Anderson. [But] our bowling is good and will give tough time to the opposition,” the skipper stated.

Squads:

PAKISTAN: Babar Azam (captain), Mohammad Rizwan (vice-captain/wicket-keeper), Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Azhar Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Haris Rauf, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Ali, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Wasim Jr, Naseem Shah, Nauman Ali, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Saud Shakeel, Shan Masood, Zahid Mehmood

ENGLAND: Ben Stokes (captain), Ben Foakes (wicket-keeper), Joe Root, James Anderson, Harry Brook, Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Will Jacks, Keaton Jennings, Jack Leach, Liam Livingstone, Jamie Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Mark Wood, Rehan Ahmed

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2022

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