England began their Test cricket summer with two shock call-ups. Jos Buttler and Dom Bess were named in the squad for the season-opening match against Pakistan at Lord’s as England look to put a difficult winter behind them.
An injury to Jack Leach just days before the squad was named opened the door for his Somerset teammate Bess to make his Test debut.
Buttler has almost completely shunned red-ball cricket since his last Test appearance in December 2016. He has not played first class cricket since last September, but selector Ed Smith noted Buttler’s “unique gifts” when his inclusion was announced.
Buttler’s Test record is underwhelming – averaging 31 – though England will hope his stupendous T20 form can carry to the longer format. That average is still pretty competitive to some of the more traditional batsmen England have tried in the middle order lately.
England’s batting, as ever, will revolve around Alastair Cook and Joe Root. Buttler adds flair down the order, but Root and Cook will need to perform for England to set a foundation. Root is a steal at 4/1 to be the top batsman in the first innings.
Root has moved up the order to ‘take a bit more responsibility’ by batting at three. The cricketing public have been asking for this for some time. It will be interesting to see how Root adapts.
With two exciting bowling attacks on show, England’s batting might be what determines this Test. Mohamed Amir leads the line for Pakistan, the electric left-armer has the potential to be unplayable, particularly if there is a bit of moisture at Lord’s. Amir is out at 5/1 to be the match’s top first innings bowler.
England will be more than confident of taking 20 wickets themselves, mind. The forecast is variable in London for this Test, which could aid the lateral movement for the iconic duo.
Anderson is the unsurprising favourite to be top bowler at 7/2. Pakistan have a talented batting line-up, but dealing with Anderson in English conditions is an almost alien challenge to some players. There’s definitely some value in backing the king of swing.
Despite a painful winter, England are strong favourites to win the first Test of the summer. Hardly surprising, really, given their form on home soil and the general trend of home dominance in Test cricket.
The excitement around the return of Buttler and Bess’ debut might be just what England need. Pakistan caused England a lot of problems on their last tour, however. The tourists have a varied, underrated bowling unit that could quickly rattle an England batting line-up desperate for a solid innings to start the tour.
England’s aggressive batting suggests this one will be over before Day Five. Pair that with the home of cricket’s penchant for lifeless tracks, though, and we have a bit of a dilemma.
I like the 4/1 on this match to finish in the evening session of Day Four. Of course, potential rain could change it all, but a draw remains the most unlikely result with this England team.
I expect Anderson, Broad and their supporting cast will get the required wickets. Whether they have enough run support is the real question heading into this season-opener. It’s a tough call, but I think England have just about enough depth in their batting to put together a competitive score and win the Test.
Ben Stokes is a tempting 9/1 to get man of the match in his first home England match since the Bristol incident.
TIP: England to win @ 1/2
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*