Ben Stokes describes Yasir Shah as the best leg-spinner since Shane Warne – but remains confident England can deal with the threat he poses at Old Trafford.
Yasir shot to the top of the International Cricket Council rankings with his 10-wicket haul at Lords as, in his first Test outside Asia, Pakistan went 1-0 up in the Investec series.
England captain Alastair Cook bemoaned his team’s “naive” batting against the tourists’ match-winner, and promised a collective improvement by the time the second Test starts in Manchester tomorrow.
Stokes, like England’s all-time leading wicket-taker James Anderson, was absent at Lord’s but both will be back tomorrow having proved their fitness in the Specsavers County Championship match between Lancashire and Durham.
Anderson’s unavailability for Lord’s was controversial, amid reports that the captain and coach Trevor Bayliss were voted down in a selection meeting which urged caution with the seamer’s shoulder injury.
The whys and wherefores of Anderson’s late start to the series arguably made little difference in a match which saw England’s batting, rather than their bowling, come up short.
They will make none at Old Trafford either, where the hosts will surely be best advised to focus most prominently on how to combat Yasir – especially at a venue more likely to favour spin.
Stokes saw enough from afar, as well as in two Tests against Yasir in the United Arab Emirates last winter, to have little doubt no one has come as close to Warne’s skill levels since the great Australian’s retirement almost a decade ago.
“Yasir Shah is the best leg-spinner, I think, since Warne,” said the all-rounder.
“But we come to this Test and know how he goes about bowling – and we should be able to counteract that.”
England went to significant lengths, to little avail of course, in their preparation to face Yasir at Lord’s. They have also recruited former Pakistan off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq as an expert consultant here.
“The training down at Lord’s was heavily about getting the lads prepared for the leg-spin,” added Stokes. “We’ll be doing the same again here in these two days of prep.
“We’ll be getting our heads round a gameplan, and how we’ll be wanting to play against him.”
Stokes’ omission from England’s squad last week was less of a surprise tthan Anderson’s.
He has clarified that he had “no issue” about the decision not to pick him as a specialist batsman.
“I wouldn’t have said ‘no’,” he revealed.
“But when I got told, ‘We are not going to select you’ it was like, ‘Right, okay, fine.
“’We want you to get back to what you do best for England’, and that’s obviously what I want to be doing – so it wasn’t really an issue for me not getting selected as a batsman.
“It gave me time to focus more on getting back to fitness rather than having to worry about playing in a game where I wasn’t able to bowl. It was probably the best thing they could have done for me to get me back – getting some overs under my belt for Durham. It was a massive confidence boost as well.”