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Pakistan compete for parity as England battle Stokes' unavailability
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Pakistan compete for parity as England battle Stokes' unavailability

Pakistan were stunned by a riveting fightback from England in the series opener at Old Trafford that allowed the hosts to edge to a three-wicket win.

Although Pakistan had emphatically dominated the majority of the proceedings, they slipped away in the closing moments of the match and stumbled in their thorny path to the finishing line.

Azhar Ali's questionable use of his bowlers and a failure to implement an alternate plan during Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler's rampant partnership helped England stage an amazing comeback despite being in tatters for a while.

However, Pakistan will be buoyed by Ben Stokes' absence for the Southampton clash after the star all-rounder was forced to miss the remaining matches due to family reasons.

Earlier this week, it emerged that Stokes had to go back to New Zealand to be with his ill father leaving the England selectors with a dilemma regarding the team's composition for the next game.

He had played the first encounter as a specialist batsman but was dismissed for cheap scores in both innings. Nevertheless, the 29-year-old snared two important wickets in Pakistan's second innings after recouping some of his bowling fitness.

While the obvious move for England would be to reinduct Zak Crawley in the line-up, they could possibly opt for a couple of changes in the pace bowling department as well to rest their key seamers.

James Anderson was surprisingly the weakest link in England's bowling attack for the first Test as he obtained a meagre match haul of 1-97 but the senior pro has dismissed speculation relating to his retirement. Similarly, England skipper Joe Root has reaffirmed his belief in Anderson and said there was no point leaving out the country's all-time leading wicket-taker.

With Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes having played three successive Tests, one of these two could also be dropped to make way for Sam Curran or Mark Wood.

On the other hand, the rhetoric surrounding Pakistan's preparations for the second game has been focused on dealing with pressure better.

Head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq commented that his team needed to lift their spirits and stay mentally strong in order to prevail in crucial moments.

Pakistan captain Azhar Ali is under immense pressure as both his tactics and underwhelming form have been criticised following the narrow loss. But the top-order batsman hopes to return to his fluent self soon.

“When I bat, I'm not thinking about the captaincy, whether or not I'm out of form. And when I'm captain, I don't think about my batting at all," he said.

Shadab Khan's leg-spin was deployed sparingly in the first Test, thus eliciting the suggestion of handing Fawad Alam a long-awaited chance to shine in the middle-order ahead of the young all-rounder.

Squads

Pakistan: Azhar Ali (c), Babar Azam, Abid Ali, Asad Shafiq, Fawad Alam, Imam, Kashif Bhatti, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Rizwan, Naseem Shah, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Shan Masood, Sohail Khan, Yasir Shah

England: Joe Root (c), James Anderson, Jofra Archer, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler (wk), Zak Crawley, Sam Curran, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Dom Sibley, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood