Ollie Pope could keep his spot behind the stumps at the expense of Ben Foakes, while Mark Wood is primed for a return as England address selection conundrums ahead of the second Test against Pakistan.

Following a historic 74-run victory in the first Test, England arrived in Multan on a high but with considerations over their XI, given the magnitude of the events in Rawalpindi. A virus in the camp ahead of the match threw plans in disarray with Foakes, the first-choice wicketkeeper, falling ill on the evening before day one, meaning Surrey team-mate Pope had to take the gloves. The 24-year-old impressed in his first stint in the role since 2019, taking six catches and a stumping in the match. He also scored 108 in the first innings, along with 15 in the second.

A knee injury sustained by Liam Livingstone on day two – he has now returned to the UK for rehabilitation – seemed to point to an obvious return for Foakes. His keeping is superior to Pope’s and, with Will Jacks stepping up with six wickets on debut, they demonstrated they could cover for Livingstone’s absence as a spin option. Foakes has also been Ben Stokes’ go-to keeper since the allrounder became captain at the start of the English summer, playing six out of seven Tests. The only match Foakes missed – against India at Edgbaston – was due to failing to recover fully from Covid-19.

Though Foakes is now fully fit after recovering from last week’s bug, Stokes played it coy on Wednesday when asked if his return to the side was a formality.

“We’ll have to consider all our different options,” Stokes said. “I think there are a few different options we are going to lay out in front of each other, and try and understand what is the best option to try and win this Test match. Because we have got a few other factors that we have to contend with.

“That’s the great thing about where we’re at at the moment. We found ourselves in that situation [illness in the first Test] and we still managed to pick a team that was strong enough to win a game. As I said, we are going to have a conversation at some point about what we feel is the best route to go.”

Wood, meanwhile, is on course to earn his first Test cap since sustaining an elbow injury on the tour of the Caribbean in March. He missed the whole of the English season after undergoing two bouts of surgery, and though he returned to international duty on the T20 tour of Pakistan and went on to play an integral role in England’s T20 World Cup win in Australia, a subsequent hip issue ruled him out of the semi-final and final.

Wood returned to England to recover from that injury at home but, after missing the Test squad’s training camp in Abu Dhabi, he was deemed unavailable for selection for the first Test given how little he had bowled up to that point. He also felt unwell ahead of the Test though his illness was unrelated to the virus affecting the rest of the group.

Wood offers a point of difference with his extreme pace, showcased during the World Cup where he bowled the most deliveries (31) above 150kph (93mph) and registered the fastest delivery of the tournament at 154.74kph (96.2mph). Stokes confirmed his county team-mate was fit and raring to go and welcomed the extra zip he would bring, especially when it comes to the short-ball tactic England deployed so effectively in the first Test.

“I mean it is definitely an added bonus,” he said of Wood’s availability. “It’s a lot better having someone bowling 150kph bouncers rather than me, Robbo [Ollie Robinson] and Jimmy [Anderson] at 80mph trying to do it. I think wherever you go in the world, conditions, whatever it is, having someone at Woody’s pace is an absolute bonus. Whether he’s bowling short or full, at that pace it’s always going to be difficult to face. It’s great to have him fit and recovering from his injuries and he’s definitely put his name into the hat for selection.”

Should Pope remain as wicketkeeper, Wood could come in as Livingstone’s direct replacement. However, if Foakes is restored to the XI, there is a chance Jacks would have to make way for Wood, a harsh fate given that he claimed 6 for 161 with his offspin in the first innings on debut.

Further complications for England’s preparations could come from the local conditions, with heavy winter smog expected to delay the 10am start time, as well as create potential health issues for the players. Videos from the ground sent to the team show visibility at less than 10 yards between 9am and 9.30am before eventually clearing at around 11am. England’s flight into Multan from Islamabad on Tuesday was delayed by three-and-a-half hours as a consequence.

Multan’s air quality index was rated as “unhealthy” on Wednesday, with a level of micro-particles 11.6 times higher than the guideline set by the World Health Organisation. Local advice is to wear masks outside and avoid outdoor exercise, which will become a problem from Thursday onwards, when England train for the first time at the Multan Cricket Stadium.

The ECB medical staff on the tour, led by medical director Dr Nick Peirce and team doctor Anita Biswas, will take a view on conditions at the venue on Thursday. In the meantime, the combination of late start times and premature finishes, due to early sunsets, are occupying Stokes’ thoughts regarding the make-up of his side. The aim, as ever, is to force a win regardless of circumstances beyond their control.

“It’s pretty obvious with the morning situation that we find ourselves in here, we’re going to have to play that [selection] by ear. Yesterday [Tuesday] at 9:30am, we couldn’t even see the ground [from videos sent to them]. So we probably have to take that into consideration if we feel like that is going to be the case for every day in the Test match. That’s probably going to have to be a later decision, and we’re going to have to think about some decisions.

“We’ll have a sit-down discussion and we’ll find a way to pick a team which we find is best to win the game, with those two things: the start time potentially delayed and coming off early because of the light.”

“We could end up having only 300-350 overs in the Test match. We might have to get even a bit more adventurous with what we do. We’ll see.”

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo


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