The 5-match ODI series between hosts England and Pakistan which begins on May 8 is as important as a bilateral series can be. This is the last opportunity for the two teams to test their players and understand what their best possible line-up is.
While all participating teams have announced their provisional 15-men squad for the mega event starting on May 30, they still have the opportunity to make changes. Interestingly, both teams are giving chances to certain players in this series who are not part of the World Cup squad. A great performance by any of them can force the selectors to make alterations before May 23 – the deadline for making changes. So, let us look at five important reasons why this series is extremely crucial and needs to be followed closely.
Will Jofra Archer play in the World Cup?
There has been a lot of talk about Jofra Archer's place in the English World Cup side. When he wasn't picked in the provisional 15-men squad, there was a great deal of disappointment. But his selection for this series was another way for the selectors to say that these matches would be an audition for the Barbados-born cricketer. If he comes up with a great performance, then it is nearly impossible for England to not pick him. So, keep your eyes peeled for Archer's bowling.
Amir also on trial
If Archer's place in English team is a major point of discussion in that country, an equally important topic in Pakistan is the absence of Mohammad Amir in their WC side. The last time a major ICC ODI tournament was held in England – 2017 Champions Trophy – it was Amir who lit up the Final at Lord's with a magnificent spell of bowling. However, his form went belly-up in limited-overs cricket over the last year. That led to him getting ignored. But the selection committee headed by Inzamam-ul-Haq has given Amir a lifeline. He has this series to prove that he is still potent in the 50-over format. If he succeeds, we may well see him in the World Cup.
Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq have had a pretty decent time as an opening pair. However, in Pakistan's last ODI series – against Australia in UAE – batsman Abid Ali got an opportunity to represent the national team for the first time. He opened the innings as Fakhar and Imam were both rested. The 31-year old responded by scoring a brilliant hundred. This got him picked in the 15-men World Cup squad. But with both regular openers back, can he be fitted into the XI. And if he is, which position will he occupy. He too has to perform in this series to push himself into the playing XI.
Serious Pressure on Sarfaraz
The form of Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed wasn't all that great when he got banned for four matches in South Africa. Then, curiously, he was rested for the next series – against Australia in UAE. The wicket-keeper batsman who took his place in the side – Mohammad Rizwan – ended up scoring two hundreds and keeping the wickets well. But in the kind of strange move one can only expect from Pakistan selectors, he wasn't picked for the World Cup squad! Even more surprisingly, Rizwan was even kept out of the team for this series. Needless to say, Sarfaraz's performance in these matches would be keenly watched. If he doesn't get runs, there would be egg on selectors' face. Pressure couldn't be higher on the veteran keeper-batsman.
While Yasir Shah has been breaking record after record in Tests, in 50-over format, Pakistan opted for the services of Shadab Khan, a young and highly talented leg-spinner. As the World Cup came nearer, Pakistani selectors decided to give Yasir another go, in the series against Australia. His performance wasn't anything special, so he was left out of the WC squad. But with Shadab sustaining an injury, Yasir is brought back for this series and has another chance to make his case for the World Cup. If Shadab isn't fit for the World Cup, the Test veteran can be his replacement. The worst-case scenario would be if Yasir fails and Shadab isn't fit. Then, Pakistan would be in some trouble.
Where to watch
The 5-match series would be telecasted live on Sony Six and Sony Six HD for television viewers. Live streaming online would be available on Sony LIV platform. The first, third and fourth ODIs would begin at 1 PM local time and 5:30 PM IST while the second and fifth ODIs are going to start at 11 AM local time and 3:30 PM IST.