An Edgbaston Test is a great week to be an England cricketer. You immediately feel at home. The support from the Hollies Stand is great and the pitch suits the English style of play.
The ball comes onto the bat nicely, but the pitch is not too bouncy. You can play drives and pulls. You do not have to go looking for the ball, just let the pitch and the outfield do the work. Even a forward defensive push can bring you a four at Edgbaston because the ball sits up so nicely. You do not have to worry about it flying through at pace or skidding on. Once you are in, you feel you can make a big score.
It also suits English quicks. The seamers always extract something from the pitch. But bowlers need to be consistent. Spraying it around at pace does not work. It rewards those bowlers who land it in an area on a consistent basis so it is perfect for the likes of Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and James Anderson.
It is the perfect venue for England at 1-1 in the series. The first day is crucial. If England ‘win’ the first day today then I expect them to go on and win the match and series.
Memories of Old Trafford will come flooding back for Pakistan if England get on top early. But if Pakistan take an early advantage then they will forget Old Trafford, chalk that one up to experience, and think back to Lord’s.
I believe England can win the match by either batting or bowling first. If they bat first they can make a big score and bowl Pakistan out. If they bowl first, they can blow their opponents away.
But with Pakistan you feel their only real chance is by batting first and making a score of around 350. If they can bat until lunch on day two then they have a sniff. They need to make England think they need 450 in their first innings to win.
International cricket is about handling pressure. We did not see England play many poor strokes at Old Trafford because they were controlling the game. At Lord’s they were under pressure and that was when they played bad shots.
So far we have seen England fail to cope with the pressure at Lord’s and Pakistan at Old Trafford so both sides are fallible.
But England have a senior core of players in better form than Pakistan. Joe Root and Alastair Cook are the engine room, and even though Gary Ballance, Alex Hales and James Vince are struggling, if the two senior men play well then England will win.
I like this change in mindset and transparency from England by naming their team the day before the match. I always felt they wasted too much nervous energy with all the cloak and dagger stuff over the team. In the past they spent more time worrying about the opposition finding out the team than actually concentrating on what matters.
It shows clear thinking by naming the team and it has given Finn backing in public. The captain has shown belief and confidence by picking him and sticking with him, but now he has to deliver.
I am told he bowled 91mph with the white ball for Middlesex last week and now we want to see a Steven Finn who believes in himself and not a Steven Finn who needs others to believe in him and pump him up. I want him to wake up this morning and say ‘it is my time. It is Edgbaston. I know what to do. I’m going to do it again.’
We all know his strengths. He has everything you want from a fast bowler: height and pace. He is a lovely lad and he just needs to ease the pressure he puts on himself and enjoy playing game. Just fling the ball down like he did for Middlesex last week and the rest will happen.
Pakistan’s problem is that their senior players are out of touch. Mohammad Hafeez has to stay in and grind out a score for his team. Azhar Ali is a fine player but technical flaws have been exposed and England feel they have his number. Younus Khan actually played better at Old Trafford in the second innings and looked as if he was finding some form until he played a stupid shot.
Asad Shafiq at number six is a excellent player but he needs to come in with 200 on the board to be really dangerous. If others can lay a platform for him to attack later on then Pakistan can make the score that will put England under pressure.
Pakistan’s problems are technical. Pakistan batsmen play for the inswinging ball. They line up to defend it. It means they are aligned poorly for the away swinger. At Old Trafford Anderson bowled a lot more away swingers than usual to the right handers.
The reason is that he can see that the right handers’ right shoulder coming across too soon so the ball moving away causes them problems. They are playing too far away from their body so a ball pitching on off stump or just outside is liable to take the edge. It is why Woakes, who shapes the ball away from the right-handers, is having so much success in this series.
It is hard to correct technical problems on tour, particularly these days when Test matches come thick and fast.
Confidence becomes so much more important. When you are away from home confidence can drain away very quickly.
Tours are great when you are winning. The buzz in the hotel, on the team bus and in the dressing room is great. The group feels vibrant and united. You want to go to net and get out on the field. But when you start losing games badly, like Pakistan did at Old Trafford, negativity soon creeps in.
It is why they have to bounce back on Wednesday or the series is over. If Pakistan struggle on day one then the ‘here we go again’ thoughts will come flooding back. It is a natural reaction when under pressure and why Edgbaston offers a great chance for England to take a commanding hold of the series.