Ageas thriller sets stage for Bristol as England, Pakistan test World Cup options
By coming so close in game two, Pakistan should have a spring in their step but England's 12-run victory was also a resolve-bolstering exercise for the home team. Jos Buttler's stunning 50-ball century was the decisive factor but the fact that four of England's five batsmen passed 50 combined with their bowlers' ability to to hold their nerve in the tense closing stages all point to why they are the No. 1 one-day side in the world. Jason Roy made a healthy return from injury and, having punched through some rustiness, should be better for it.
Fakhar Zaman's 138 off 106 balls very nearly handed his team an unlikely victory in what would have been their highest successful run chase and he was well backed up by Babar Azam and Asif Ali, either of whom could have finished the job had they managed to convert their half-centuries. It was Pakistan's bowling which was of concern, however, with Yasir Shah proving impossibly expensive and likely to pay the price with his omission. His counterparts will be feeling the pressure too, with none able to make significant inroads on England's formidable batting line-up.
Both teams are expected to ring in the changes, with final World Cup selections unashamedly the priority here, trialing individuals and testing combinations the order of the day. Most notably, Joe Denly is set to play in place of the resting Adil Rashid, making this match an audition of sorts for Denly to prove his worth as a back-up leg-spin option. Pakistan will be forced into one change of plan after the viral illness which kept Mohammad Amir out of the match in Southampton now thought to be chicken pox, scuppering any hopes they had of bringing him back.
Buttler could well be rested after his jaw-dropping display at the Ageas Bowl, while Adil and Jofra Archer did not travel to Bristol after being given some time off. That gives a number of fringe players - namely James Vince, Denly and any number of England's fast bowlers another chance to really shout: "Pick me, pick me!"
England WWLWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
As England's white-ball attack leader during their rise to No.1, Chris Woakes has appeared to be exempt from the pressures swirling around the bowling attack as the selectors look to finalise their World Cup plans. And yet, in the wake of a bout of knee tendinitis, his form since he returned to action during the tour of the Caribbean has been solid but unspectacular. He claimed 2 for 59 in the first ODI against West Indies but his only multiple-wicket haul since then was his 3 for 47 against Yorkshire in the Royal London Cup. David Willey made a timely case at the Ageas Bowl, bowling an excellent spell at the death when Pakistan really pumped up the pressure, and Woakes could do well to find a similarly notable performance to ensure the focus doesn't fall unkindly on him in the final reckoning.
Asif Ali thrust himself into the spotlight during the last game, which was no small feat in the considerable afterglow of Buttler's fireworks. Asif's 36-ball 51, including four sixes, was his highest score in nine ODI innings and pivotal in pushing Pakistan so close following the dismissal of Fakhar. It also drew attention to his quality as a power-hitter which, in the context of his World Cup squad omission, is striking. Coach Mickey Arthur made it clear after his latest knock that Asif was very much in the frame for a late call-up, should this sort of form continue.
England appear set to rest new father Buttler after his star turn on Saturday, with Jonny Bairstow training behind the stumps on Monday. That opens the door for Vince to bat again, having re-joined the England squad immediately after helping Hampshire into the Royal London Cup final with an innings of 79 off 86 balls. The selectors will take another look at Denly as he continues to try to justify his provisional World Cup spot, coming into the side as a legspinning replacement for Adil. Tom Curran will have an outing in place of Willey. Mark Wood, who has bowled a lot of overs in training but none in a competitive environment since March, is still being kept on ice for this game.
England: (possible) 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan, 5 James Vince, 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Joe Denly, 8 Moeen Ali, 9 Tom Curran, 10 Chris Woakes, 11 Liam Plunkett.
Pakistan stand to make some changes too, largely motivated by a desire to test their bowling options, with Amir's absence a given for this match. Yasir Shah, who struggled to find his rhythm in the last match, will almost certainly make way for Junaid Khan, and Mohamad Hasnain could come in, possibly at the expense of Shaheen Afridi.
Pakistan: 1 Imam-ul-Haq, 2 Fakhar Zaman, 3 Babar Azam, 4 Asif Ali, 5 Sarfaraz Ahmed (capt/wk), 6 Haris Sohail, 7 Imad Wasim, 8 Faheem Ashraf, 9 Hasan Ali, 10 Shaheen Afridi / Mohammad Hasnain, 11 Junaid Khan.
Pitch and conditions
The Bristol County Ground pitch is looking good with short, straight boundaries. The weather looks good too, as it is expected to be only partly cloudy with temperatures of 19 degrees forecast.
Stats and trivia
Pakistan return to Bristol County Ground for just the second time, almost exactly 20 years to the day since their first appearance, a 27-run win against West Indies at the 1999 World Cup.
Eoin Morgan is set to pass Paul Collingwood as England's most-capped player in ODIs, moving to 198.
Only around 8,000 tickets have so far been sold for this contest, out of an 11,000 capacity, but the authorities hope that good weather will encourage some walk-up sales on the day.
"All the world knows Pakistan is unpredictable. People are scared of the Pakistan team."."
"Sarfaraz Ahmed on his team's erratic abilities
"He's as good as it gets. It's not a shock, it's getting a bit routine for him to play those innings. It's demoralising the guys at the top of the order who go at a run a ball."
Jason Roy on the force that is Jos Buttler