Alastair Cook was wide awake at 2am mulling over his one selection dilemma for the third Test with Pakistan at Edgbaston but after plumping for Steven Finn ahead of Jake Ball, the England captain’s message to his fast bowler is to not overthink.
Both seamers were dropped after the defeat in the first Test at Lord’s as the attack leader, Jimmy Anderson, and the all-rounder Ben Stokes returned from respective shoulder and knee issues. But when the latter tore a calf muscle during the series-levelling 330-run win at Old Trafford, a space immediately reopened.
While Finn found rhythm elusive in the first half of this season – despite signs of improvement, Lord’s was his first wicketless Test in 33 appearances – Cook has opted for the senior man in the hope that a recent 90mph showing for Middlesex in Twenty20, along with memories of a career-best six for 79 against Australia in Birmingham last summer, sees the good times roll again.
Finn struggled with a swollen knee at Lord’s and has since had to have both of his big toenails removed – a common area of discomfort for fast bowlers – although with both issues now resolved, Cook believes the only true issue remains the 27-year-old’s confidence.
Asked about his message to Finn, Cook replied: “Not to worry too much about it. He sometimes can worry too much about it. He cares deeply about playing for England and doesn’t want to let anyone down. He’s a huge talent. He bowled quickly for Middlesex against Essex last week and on his day, he bowls spells which are incredible to be standing at first slip for, as he did against Australia here.
“So you just try and tell him to relax and play. That doesn’t always happen. But sometimes when you’re dropped it’s a bit of a moment for you as a player. He obviously missed out on the last Test and that will have hurt him. When telling him he wasn’t playing, you saw that disappointment and hunger almost straight away. And telling him he was playing today, you saw that glint in his eye.”
England’s middle-order pairing of James Vince and Gary Ballance saw their lack of impact so far in the series highlighted by Pakistan’s head coach, Mickey Arthur, on Monday but Cook, who scored 181 runs at Old Trafford, dismissed it as merely the latest talking point.
“Until the guys get good scores consistently that will be the case, but they’re very good players,” said Cook. “From my experience, sometimes lots of people telling you you’re a good player and that it’s only a matter of time before things turn is the last thing you want to hear. You maybe want to hear a bit of advice about what you could do.”
While Cook was happy to name his XI a day before the toss, his opposite number, Misbah-ul-Haq, opted to keep Pakistan’s plans under wraps as the tourists mull over a change at the top of the order due to Shan Masood’s apparent vulnerability outside off stump. Instead the captain preferred to echo Arthur’s assessment of England and their dependance on the form of Cook and Joe Root.
Misbah said: “It’s important to get their main players out because those are the two pillars of their batting. Because other members of the batting lineup are struggling at the moment. That’s really important for us to just get them [Cook and Root] early and put England under pressure.”
While the Edgbaston Test will be England’s 500th at home, the milestone is something of a bitter irony for Pakistan given the reluctance of teams to tour their country since the 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team bus. Just five limited overs matches against Zimbabwe last year have taken place in Pakistan since, with Misbah fearing the long-term impact.
He added: “It can really hurt your overall development as a cricketing nation. Your youth can really be inspired if you are playing international cricket at home. It’s one area where you can say we are really unlucky and we want international cricket back in Pakistan, just to help our youngsters and just to help cricket in our country.”
England v Pakistan teams
England (probable): AN Cook (capt), AD Hales, JE Root, JM Vince, GS Ballance, JM Bairstow (wkt), MM Ali, CR Woakes, SCJ Broad, JM Anderson, ST Finn.
Pakistan (possible): Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), M Hafeez, A Ali, A Shafiq, Y Khan, I Ahmed, S Ahmed (wkt), M Amir, Y Shah, R Ali, S Khan.
Umpires: J Wilson (WI) and B Oxenford (Aus).
Third umpire: K Dharmasena (SL).
Match referee: R Richardson (WI).
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