Moeen Ali returns to his roots in Pakistan to lead England in a seven-match series as both nations fine-tune for next month’s T20 World Cup.
Ali will captain England because Twenty20 skipper Jos Buttler is recovering from a calf injury and is expected to play in only one or two games toward the end of the series, which begins Tuesday.
“Captaining England in any game, anywhere in the world, is a huge honor,” Ali said. “Obviously, with my roots being from here and to lead England … it’s huge and it’s (a) very proud moment for me and my family, my mum and dad and everybody.”
England’s first tour to Pakistan since 2005 starts in Karachi, which will host four games. The remaining three will be played in Lahore from Sept. 28-Oct. 2.
Buttler is with the squad and has been undergoing rehabilitation, but Ali said the recurring of the injury during the Hundred back home has forced the England captain to be extra careful.
“Maybe in the back end of the tour he will play one or two games, but we’re not sure yet,” Ali said. “Obviously with the World Cup in Australia, it’s huge for us and we want him fully fit for the whole competition there.”
The T20 World Cup begins in mid-October.
At least eight members of the England squad like Ali himself, Harry Brook, Alex Hales and Phil Salt have experience playing in Pakistan for various franchises in the Pakistan Super League.
That experience could come in handy for an England team that is without its key T20 World Cup player Ben Stokes.
Fast bowlers Mark Wood and Chris Woakes are returning to the team after being sidelined for most of the summer because of injuries. Jonny Bairstow was ruled out of the T20 World Cup due to freak injury while playing golf while out-of-form Jason Roy was dropped both for the tour of Pakistan and the T20 World Cup.
Despite so many injury problems, Ali still believes England has enough firepower to challenge a strong Pakistan team that recently lost to Sri Lanka in the final of the Asia Cup.
“The only person I think that’s not here is Ben Stokes from the guys who could be here,” Ali said. “Throughout the summer we had injuries, but it gives good opportunities for new players to come in.”
Pakistan will be hoping its captain Babar Azam returns to form after a below-par Asia Cup where he scored only 68 runs in six games. Key players Fakhar Zaman and fast bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi will miss the series because of knee injuries.
Babar’s opening partner Mohammad Rizwan finished as the top run-getter of the Asia Cup and also rose to the No. 1-ranked batter in T20 rankings. However, Rizwan was often criticized for playing too many dot balls — especially during the first six overs of batting powerplay — after Babar struggled in the Asia Cup.
“It will be good if you don’t overthink too much about the bad patch,” Babar told reporters about his run of poor scores in the Asia Cup. “It’s cricket, your graph gets up and down, but as a team we always try to back those who are not doing well.”
Pakistan is expected to experiment with its batting lineup with all eyes on left-handed Shan Masood, who got his maiden call-up after scoring heavily in England’s domestic league — Blast — this season and also in the PSL and the National T20 Cup.
In the absence of Afridi, Pakistan fast bowlers did well in the Asia Cup with young Naseem Shah, Haris Rauf and Mohammad Hasnain constantly bowling a brisk pace. Fast bowler Mohammad Wasim Jr. is also back in the T20 fold after missing the Asia Cup because of side strain.
“They like to keep things simple,” said Shaun Tait, Pakistan’s fast bowling coach from Australia, “but they’ve got so much ability and they’ve got a lot of flair.”
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