Legspinner Rehan Ahmed will become England’s youngest test player and regular wicketkeeper Ben Foakes returns to the lineup as the visitors eye a historic 3-0 sweep in their first test tour to Pakistan in 17 years.
Foakes failed to recover in time from a viral infection that hit several England players on the eve of the first test at Rawalpindi earlier this month. Ollie Pope donned the wicketkeeping gloves in Foakes’ absence in both tests.
Ahmed will be 18 years, 126 days when he takes the field on Saturday in the third and final test after England decided to rest 40-year-old James Anderson having already clinched the series. Foakes will replace Will Jacks.
“It’s exciting times for Rehan,” captain Ben Stokes said. “He was very excited when we gave him the nod that he was going to play last night.”
Ahmed will be 23 days younger than England's current record holder Brian Close was when he made his test debut against New Zealand at Manchester in 1949 at the age of 18 years, 149 days.
Ahmed originally accompanied the squad to Abu Dhabi as a net bowler when England had a training camp in the United Arab Emirates prior to flying out to Pakistan before he was drafted into the squad.
He has played only three first class games for Leicestershire, but his attacking style impressed both coach Brendon McCullum and Stokes in a county game against Derbyshire where he made 122 and also picked up a five-wicket haul with his legspin bowling.
“It’s great to see someone who has so much freedom,” Stokes said. “He’s got a vast array of shots and obviously a wrist-spinner is great to be able to have in your team, especially in these conditions.”
With their aggressive approach under McCullum and Stokes, England leads the three-match series 2-0 after beating Pakistan by 74 runs on a flat wicket in Rawalpindi, which later received one demerit point from the International Cricket Council.
Pakistan had its moment to level the series on a slow turning pitch at Multan but Mark Wood’s four-wicket haul in the second innings earned England a thrilling 26-run win inside four days this week when Pakistan was bowled out for 328 after the visitors setup a challenging target of 355.
Stokes said he would like to leave with a 3-0 win in the series, but said he was not putting extra pressure on his teammates. England is enjoying a remarkable streak in the longer format that began in the summer when it won six of the seven test matches against opposition like New Zealand, India and South Africa
“We would love to,” Stokes said about the prospect of a clean sweep. “(But) we’re not putting pressure on ourselves or as a team to be leaving here 3-0 because then you take your whole focus away from the process and how you want to play.”
England have frustrated Pakistan's bowlers with their relentless aggression over the last two weeks. They racked up a world record 506-4 in the first test and then despite mystery spinner Abrar Ahmed claiming 7-114 in his debut test at Multan, Stokes’ men piled on a rapid 281 inside the first two sessions on the first day before taking a significant 79-run first innings lead.
Young Harry Brook has smashed two successive centuries and has scored 357 runs at better than a run-a-ball in two test matches, with Ben Duckett (249) also dominating the spinners with his trademark reverse sweeps in the series.
Pakistan injury woes further compounded when opening batter Imam-ul-Haq aggravated his right hamstring injury during training on Friday.
The lefthanded Imam scored 229 runs in two test matches that included a valiant 60 in the second test which nearly pulled off a win for the home team.
Imam’s injury is the third setback for Pakistan after fast bowlers Haris Rauf (thigh injury) and Naseem Shah (shoulder) broke down in the first test and were ruled out of the remainder of the series.
“We have played continuous cricket and that’s why we have more injuries,” captain Babar Azam said. “It’s not that we are relaxed on fitness but we have to address fitness issues.”
Babar said Pakistan missed its moments in the series and hopes his spinners will challenge England on another dry wicket prepared for the third test. Legspinner Zahid Mahmood and Ahmed are the leading wicket-takers in the series, bagging 23 wickets in the two test matches.
“The wicket looks dry and it’s a typical Karachi pitch,” Babar said. “The weather here is warm so maybe it will help spinners … both matches were in our hand, but we must ensure not to repeat mistakes.”