Before their First Test at Lord’s earlier this summer, Pakistan faced Ireland in a Test match, as well as holding tour games against Kent, Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.
Their last domestic season had taken place with the Dukes Ball as part of their preparation, too. They won at Lord’s and drew the series 1-1.
Compare and contrast with India, whose inability to handle the swinging ball means one more defeat will see the five-match series lost, as the past two series in this country have been.
They had two weeks between the final ODI and First Test but scheduled just four days against Essex and the red Dukes, which they cut to three because of the hot weather. During the match in Chelmsford, they changed hotels twice, complaining about quality of the air conditioning.
Che Pujara and Ishant Sharma were with counties earlier in the summer, and only injury prevented Virat Kohli joining them, but neither had played in the Championship for five weeks before the First Test.
The sense is that they have been playing catch-up since. Kohli scored 46 per cent of their runs at Edgbaston as he and the bowling of Sharma, Ravi Ashwin and Mohammad Shami kept them close.
At Lord’s, the match felt lost as soon as they failed to win the toss in unfavourable conditions. It was a procession, done in 170.3 overs. Kohli, troubled by a back injury, expressed his embarrassment at the outcome. Only one team, Don Bradman’s 1936-37 Australians, have won from 2-0 down in a five-match series. They have much to get right at Trent Bridge and have had little time to do it. There seems one certainty: the team will change, for two reasons.
Firstly, because it just has to. They got it wrong at Lord’s. Ravi Shastri, the coach, admitted that picking Kuldeep Yadav, the left-arm wrist-spinner, was “an error in hindsight”, although it looked an error immediately, given the lush conditions. Secondly, they always change their team: in 37 Tests under Kohli’s captaincy, they have never picked the same XI in successive games.
The good news, for India and the series as a contest, is that Kohli will be fit to play. When dismissed in the second innings at Lord’s in uncharacteristically tame fashion, he shuffled up the Pavilion steps with all the flexibility of the MCC members after a bottle of red. But Shastri is confident he will be fine.
Thankfully for the tourists, their 18-man squad provides room for manoeuvre elsewhere. Both openers, particularly Murali Vijay after a pair at Lord’s, are under the spotlight, but should survive. Rishabh Pant, the 20-year-old IPL star, is set to come into the middle order for his Test debut, perhaps even as wicketkeeper. Shastri gave Ajinkya Rahane, who is averaging 16 this year, assurances that he “remain one of our pillars”, so he should be safe for now.
They will surely not play two spinners again, which brings Umesh Yadav and the fit-again Jasprit Bumrah back into the equation. Hardik Pandya has done fine but needs to be a fourth seamer and No8, not third seamer and No6, as he was at Lord’s. All this will be merely rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic if the top order have not addressed their issues with the moving ball. If they cannot, the series will be gone in a flash.
Meanwhile, Moeen Ali has been released from England’s squad to play for Worcestershire against Birmingham Bears in the Blast tonight, before returning to Trent Bridge on Saturday.