England face Pakistan in the first of their two test series beginning at Lords on Thursday, and will be glad to be back at home after their disappointing tour of Australia and New Zealand during the winter.
Under new national selector Ed Smith, the England squad has included a few surprises, not least of which is the recall of Jos Buttler, after a successful spell in the IPL, to play at number seven as a specialist batsmen. The call-up was as much of a shock for the player as it was for the public, with Buttler admitting he had thought about giving up red ball cricket altogether.
He will join his Rajasthan Royals team mate Ben Stokes in the middle order, with Jonny Bairstow promoted to bat at five, and Dawid Malan given the number four berth. That means captain Joe Root moves up to his less preferred position of three, with Alistair Cook and Mark Stoneman opening.
In the bowling department, England have sprung another surprise with the inclusion of Somerset off-spinner Dom Bess, who has only played 16 first-class matches in his career to date. The 20-year old has faced Pakistan before, making his debut against the tourists two years ago, although it was hardly an auspicious start, finishing with match figures of 0 – 128 as Younis Khan feasted on his bowling.
However, he will be hoping for another chance against them, especially with no Khan in the side this time, and will compete with Chris Woakes and Mark Wood for two bowling spots with Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad certain starters.
The Pakistan squad is not at full strength, with Fawad Alam and Yasir Shah joining Khan on the list of absentees, and Wahab Riaz omitted. The side lacks experience with five uncapped players in the squad, so their ability to adapt to English conditions will be key. Pace bowler Mohammad Amir has recovered from a knee injury, and may have a big part to play.
Pakistan do have the momentum of a recent test victory behind them, having beaten Ireland in their inaugural test last week, although they struggled at times during that match, and will find England a more daunting test. The home side will start favourites, but do not discount Pakistan from raising their game, especially if their leg spinners come into the equation.