Pakistan is present in England with the largest travelling squad in the history of cricket, including ten fast bowlers, four spinners, four opening batsmen, nine middle-order batsmen and two wicket-keepers.
Probably the only thing that can be said with any certainty coming into the fourth Ashes Test at Trent Bridge is that there’s a lot of uncertainty about just how this could go.
One need only look at how the betting markets have fluctuated across the last two Tests to get a sense of just how much opinion has changed over the past few weeks as to which nation will lift the urn at the end of the series.
After Australia’s crushing victory at Lord’s in the second Test the English drifted out as far as $5.25 to win the series and the Aussies came in at a low-priced $1.50 to win it all.
The Aussies were full of optimism, with England’s fourth-day collapse seeming to signal an open path for Australia to break a run of three consecutive home series won by the English.
Not so, as it turned out, with England embarrassing Australia at Edgbaston, recording a brutal eight-wicket win in less than three days. England shrank from more than five dollars to win the series back to $1.80, while the Australian odds blew back out to $4.
Everything is delicately poised now coming into the fourth and penultimate match of the series. It’s a crucial match but on top of that, it’s near impossible to predict given the wild form swings we’ve seen so far.
The equation is simple – a win here for the English will lock in a series win for them, while a win for the Aussies – or a draw – would give them the chance to either claim the series outright or hold out for a 2-2 finish in the final Test.
With none of the three Tests so far having made it to a fifth day – and another lively pitch expected for the Trent Bridge Test – a draw seems unlikely, so this will probably be a game of winners and losers.
Simply put, the Aussies must win at Trent Bridge to keep themselves alive.
To do so they need to bounce back from what was a bafflingly bad performance at Edgbaston, but they’ll be helped in this by the fact that England have lost veteran swing bowler James Anderson to a side strain.
Anderson was injured on the second day of the Test at Edgbaston but not before taking six first-innings wickets and a seventh on day two before coming off mid-over.
While Anderson is hopeful of returning to full fitness in time for the series’ fifth and final Test at the Oval, he’s been ruled out for Trent Bridge and leaves England with something of a selection dilemma.
Mark Wood would seem to be the logical replacement after playing the first two Tests but has injury issues of his own, fighting to come back from an ankle concern in time to replace Anderson.
England have also called up Liam Plunkett and the uncapped Mark Footitt to their squad as potential replacements for Anderson.
Australia is not without some selection concerns of its own, with the form of embattled skipper Michael Clarke and whether or not to keep Adam Voges in the line-up its chief concerns.
There’s a good chance that Voges will be dropped to make way for Shaun Marsh, and that Marsh might then be played at no. 4 allowing Clarke to drop back to no. 5, in the hope that this could revitalise his form.
Peter Siddle is also a chance to come in for Mitchell Starc or Josh Hazlewood if the Aussies decide to change up their bowling attack.
England haven’t lost at Trent Bridge since an Indian triumph in 2007, and Australian haven’t tasted victory at the venue since 2001, making the hopes of victory seem a bit far off.
That said, it’s worth noting that the English have won just two Tests in the last eight years without Anderson in the side – although that’s from only eight Tests missed in that time by the durable Lancastrian.
In an unpredictable series full of swings of fortune, Australia’s great hope is that fortune can swing once again, back in their favour, and help them set up a deciding encounter in the fifth Test at the Oval.
Will it happen? We’ll find out when the fourth Test begins at Trent Bridge on Thursday night.