London: Pakistan could, for the first time in their history, field a side comprised solely of players from the one province when they play England in the third Test at The Oval here on Wednesday.
The Pakistan squad is dominated by players from the country’s most populous province, Punjab (14 in all), and it’s capital Lahore (which has eight representatives) in particular.
Batsman Yasir Hameed and seamer Umar Gul are both from the north-west frontier province, now known as Khyber-Pakhtunkwa.
But Gul is out with a hamstring injury and Hameed hasn’t played in either of the two preceding Tests.
If Pakistan do not include Hameed or pace bowler Tanveer Ahmed, born in Kuwait but who now represents Karachi, Pakistan’s other traditional major cricket centre along with Lahore, it will be an all Punjabi XI that takes the field at The Oval.
None of this would matter much if Pakistan were winning, but they are 2-0 down in a four Test series after defeats by 354 runs in the series opener at Trent Bridge and by nine wickets at Edgbaston and there have already been protests in Karachi against “Lahore bias”.
Former captain and senior batsman Mohammad Yousuf is set to return.
He was recalled ahead of the Edgbaston Test but was not selected after only arriving in England the day before the match.
Third in Pakistan’s all-time list of Test run-scorers, Yousuf was initially omitted from the squad having been handed an indefinite ban by the Pakistan Cricket Board after captaining the side on their winless tour of Australia concluded earlier this year.
Pakistan badly need more runs after being bowled out for record low scores against England of 80 and 72 at Trent Bridge and Edgbaston respectively.
But they suffered a setback when wicketkeeper Zulqarnain Haider, who made 80 on debut at Edgbaston, was ruled out of both The Oval match and next week’s fourth Test at Lord’s with a fractured finger.
Zulqarnain’s injury will lead to a recall for Kamran Akmal, dropped after bagging a pair at Trent Bridge and missing several chances.
Meanwhile Gul’s place is likely to be taken by Wahab Riaz.
The 25-year-old uncapped left-arm fast-medium bowler was a highly controversial selection for the tour after only taking 14 wickets in Pakistan’s domestic Quaid-e-Azam Trophy while several bowlers who took more than 40 wickets each were not chosen.
But opening batsman Imran Farhat said a largely fledgling side coached by former Pakistan fast bowler Waqar Younis were aware of their responsibilities.
“This is a time to be very honest - the criticism has been going round and now we have to repay our coaches and our country as well. We are looking to win this match.”
By contrast, England are set to field an unchanged team for the third Test in a row, with the only major concern the form of Alastair Cook. The opener has managed scores of just eight, 12, 17 and four so far this series.
But No 3 Jonathan Trott, who has been touted as a possible opener were Cook to be dropped, has backed the left-hander to come through on the batsman-friendly wickets at The Oval and Lord’s after he himself endured a run of low scores on the tour of his native South Africa.
“He will be fine,” said Trott, who scored two fifties at Edgbaston.
“It is amazing how things can change,” Trott, who scored a century on debut against Australia at The Oval last year added.
And that can be true for teams too. Pakistan briefly rattled England with some resolute second innings batting at Edgbaston and could do so again if the ball does not swing.
It was at the The Oval four years ago where Pakistan became the first side to forfeit a Test after refusing to take the field, having been penalised for ball-tampering.
But changes to the rulebook since then have made a repeat all but impossible and, besides, Pakistan cannot afford to concede matches at the moment.