Tour review

England v Pakistan, 2019

Dean Wilson

Twenty20 international (1); England 1, Pakistan 0
One-day internationals (5): England 4, Pakistan 0

Rarely can Pakistan have arrived in England for a series in which the results seemed so inconsequential. That is not to say the matches were uncompetitive, or didn't produce high-quality cricket. Quite the opposite. But the tour's unusually low relevance stemmed from its position in the summer: next up was the World Cup, in which every game would hold the significance of a life's work.

Pakistan's last limited-overs foray to the UK had been a happy one: victory at the 2017 Champions Trophy, including a semi-final win over England. Before that, Pakistan's recent record against them had been poor - four wins in the previous 20 ODIs. By the time the 50-over series was done, they had not added to the tally. Pakistan comfortably won their three warm-up matches - one-day games against Kent and Northamptonshire, and a T20 against Leicestershire - and their squad was packed with well-known internationals. But, after naming 17 players, they ended up without two familiar faces. Leg-spinner Shadab Khan was struck down with a mystery virus, later confirmed as hepatitis C, supposedly contracted during dental treatment in Rawalpindi. Mohammad Amir, meanwhile, who had struggled for form since the Champions Trophy, caught chickenpox, and missed out on a proper chance to push for a World Cup place (though he was eventually selected).

And pushing for a World Cup place was where the series derived its meaning. No player exemplified this more than Jofra Archer, the Barbados-born fast bowler with an English father and a British passport. Newly eligible for selection after a change in the ECB's residential qualification period, from seven years to three, he now had the opportunity to leapfrog his way into the World Cup 15.

England had also named a one-day squad of 17, including Chris Jordan, Archer's friend and fellow Sussex Bajan. Alex Hales was originally chosen, but dropped after news broke that he had failed two tests for recreational drug use, allowing James Vince to take his place. Scores of 43 and 33 were enough to earn him a World Cup spot, but for others there was less security. Kent's Joe Denly was hoping to show off his versatility: his batting, leg-spin and athletic fielding had long persuaded national selector Ed Smith of his merits. Yet in three ODIs he batted only once and bowled just six overs.

From the outset, Archer's skill and pace left no doubt he would graduate to the World Cup. In four overs on a rain-spoiled day at The Oval, he sent down two maidens and claimed one for six in a spell that had spectators mesmerised. But the question of who would lose out dogged every other fast bowler, and not all of them sounded thrilled at the prospect.

Back in March, in the Caribbean, David Willey had questioned the wisdom of disrupting the squad so close to the World Cup. In April, Mark Wood half jokingly wondered whether Archer might become England's Faustino Asprilla, the Colombian footballer who joined Newcastle United in February 1996, after which their Premier League challenge fell away. Next day, Chris Woakes got his words in a tangle, telling the BBC that it would "not be fair morally" for Archer to replace a player who had helped England to the top of the rankings. All three claimed they were misquoted, but there was no denying the tension. Eventually, the selectors dispensed with Willey. After four years in and around the side, he had paid the price for an inescapable truth, underlined during this series: the white ball in England simply did not swing. For a player who relied on it, this was bad news.

Not that many bowlers enjoyed themselves during the four ODIs that survived the rain. Seven of the eight innings reached 340, while the eighth - Pakistan's chase at Headingley, where they struggled in vain to avoid a 4-0 defeat - was 297. England averaged 61 per wicket, Pakistan 41. Of the regular bowlers, the meanest was Woakes, with an economy-rate of 6.23 (Archer went at 4.85, but from only 14 overs). In all, 12 players passed 50. It was carnage, which suited England down to the ground.

© John Wisden & Co