Given how the second Test panned out, the question that will be uppermost in the minds of two sets of players in the England and Pakistan camps, their coaching staff and countless viewers across the world is will the weather hold?
And the signs aren’t promising as a downpour lashed Southampton on Wednesday and more rainfall is forecast over the week.
With more weather-induced disruptions likely, there seems to be a consensus already that the two teams should go into the Ageas Bowl taking the elements into the equation.
There is also a sense that both the think-tanks should opt for enforcers who can drive the game forward with the bat and ball. The objective, say pundits, should be quick runs and wickets so that whatever playing time the game affords is enough to force a result.
With all the wet weather around, the pitch, in all likelihood, will afford exaggerated movement and both bowling attacks will fancy putting the batters under pressure.
So how should the two teams line up for the final Test? Former England captain Michael Vaughan believes the think-tank should consider bringing back tearaways Jofra Archer and Mark Wood into the playing XI.
But who should they leave out then? The sense is that England shouldn’t mind going in with an all-pace attack, and, should that happen, off-spinner Dom Bess would be the most likely one to be benched.
Also, expect Mark Wood to make the playing XI in place of left-arm medium pacer Sam Curran. As far as enforcers go, they don’t come much better than Archer and Wood as they both have the ability to hurry batters and breach the stoutest of defences with sheer pace.
With the surface tailor-made for the quicker men, Bess didn’t get too many overs to bowl in the second Test and with conditions likely to be similar in the third, he will be the first one to take to the sidelines if England opts for an all-pace attack.
Curran picked up just one wicket in helpful bowling conditions in Southampton and Wood, with all the pace at his command, could be a wise option to consider in his place.
Archer’s return to the playing XI seems a certainty as England’s head coach Chris Silverwood said the think-tank was considering leaving out the Somerset off-spinner to bring back the Sussex speedster.
Though Bess featured in all five Tests, so far, in the English summer, he could only take 7 wickets at an average of 46. “It’s nice to have a spin option in your attack if you want a nice balance but it wouldn’t be the first time we have gone in with an all-seam attack. So, it’s certainly something we’ll consider,” Silverwood, a former England paceman, said.
The 25-year-old Somerset quick has had some critics raising questions over his drop in pace in recent Test matches. Taking a kinder view of that, Silverwood, who knows a thing or two about quick bowling, said, “Joffra firing at those sort of paces is very exciting. All of us watched those spells last year and went ‘wow’. It’s difficult to bowl that pace all the time… It’s about recognising when to do it and when not to do it really. If there’s an opportunity to blow an end up and open the door for us, step on the gas a little bit. These are conversations I’ve had with Jofra.”
While there isn’t change likely in the English batting line-up, they might be asked to force the pace and leave their bowlers enough time to take 20 wickets.
Pakistan, meanwhile, could consider bringing in Wahab Riaz for Yasir Shah. But would they take the bait? A veteran of many battles who is skilled at operating with both the new and old ball, Wahab deserves a look-in on a surface tailor-made for his ilk. Though Yasir picked up four wickets each in both the England’s innings at Old Trafford, he hasn’t been been that effective at the Ageas Bowl. So, a change might be in order. Sohail Khan is another pace option that the think-tank might consider.
In batting, expect young Imam-ul-Haq to come in for Asad Shafique, who has looked woefully out of touch in the series so far.
With a fair possibility of play starting early in the final Test to ensure enough overs even with stoppages due to bad light, expect a result in the final Test. One hopes the sun will stay out much longer than it did during the ill-fated second Test.