At The Oval two years ago, Pakistan thrashed England by ten wickets. So ended one of the best Test series in England for years, which Pakistan tied 2-2. A week later, their side had the sweetest postscript imaginable: they officially became the new number one Test team, for the first time in their history.
Five miles north of The Oval, Pakistan return to England in an undeniably worse state. The side has been hollowed out, and slipped to seventh in the world. Their team for Lord’s will contain only four players from the 11 victorious at The Oval two years ago. Younis Khan and Misbah ul-Haq, Pakistan’s two great constants through an age of isolation and turmoil, have departed – taking 15,321 Test runs with them. And Yasir Shah, who played a decisive role in both their Test victories in London two years ago – he took ten wickets in the game at Lord’s – is injured.
“This team is different from the one we had in 2016,” said captain Sarfraz Ahmed. “We had a lot of seniors then but at the moment we have couple of good young players so we will try our level best to win the series.”
For a measure of how onerous their task is, consider Pakistan’s Test record since their last visit to England. They have lost nine of their 14 Tests since then – not only struggling away but also being whitewashed at home by Sri Lanka; the only matches in which they were avoided defeat were against either the West Indies or Ireland.