England will arrive in Karachi early on Thursday morning for their first tour of Pakistan in 17 years, a historic visit that will see them play seven T20 internationals while under presidential-level security conditions.
The length of their absence is illustrated by the fact that their 20-man squad had made a single professional appearance between them when England played their last international in this country back in 2005: Moeen Ali, who will deputise as captain in the early stages of this tour, playing for Warwickshire against Cambridge UCCE as a 17-year-old.
His call-up came as a surprise to him, despite two impressive seasons in the T20 Blast for Kent and one in the Hundred for Oval Invincibles. “I haven’t really been picked up in any leagues,” he told ESPNcricinfo before leaving for Pakistan, “so I thought I must be slipping under the radar, just doing my thing without anyone really noticing. Then, next thing I know, I’m being picked on a tour.”
His phone rang at 8.20am the morning after Invincibles were knocked out of the Hundred and, not recognising Matthew Mott’s number, he rolled over in bed in his Manchester hotel room and ignored it. A follow-up text prompted him to ask his team-mate Jack Haynes where he knew Mott’s name from over breakfast – “I’m the worst person in the world with names” – and his pancakes went cold as he tried to take the news in.
“I still can’t really believe it now,” he said. “Obviously it’s an absolute honour to represent your country, especially at 21. When I was a kid, I really wanted to play cricket but I didn’t realise this [an England call-up] was going to happen as quickly as it has. It must mean they think I’m a good player, which means a lot.”
Cox made a name for himself at senior level with a double-hundred for Kent in the 2020 Bob Willis Trophy – he was bizarrely forced to self-isolate immediately afterwards after posing for a photo with some fans – but while his first-class record (three hundreds, and an average of 37.82) is solid, it is in the shorter formats that he has starred.
He played a key role in Kent’s Blast title in 2021, coming in at No. 5 and balancing boundary-hitting with strike rotation, before impressing at No. 3 this season and adapting to a number of different positions in Invincibles’ batting line-up in the Hundred.
“They’ve seen me bat everywhere in the order. It’s not all about hitting sixes for me: I start my innings by being busy, getting ones and twos by hitting the bigger pockets and looking to play strong shots for four, then kicking on from there. Hopefully I can fill the gap that they needed.”
Cox grew up as a wicketkeeper – he is one of four on this trip, along with Jos Buttler, Phil Salt and Ben Duckett – but has quickly earned a reputation as one of the best boundary-riders in county cricket, most obviously for his role in a stunning relay catch with Matt Milnes in the Blast final last season.
“When I first joined the staff at Kent, it was hard for me to do much keeping work: we had [Sam] Billings, [Ollie] Robinson, [Adam] Rouse and myself so I asked myself ‘how am I going to get into our white-ball team and make a difference?’ and I thought it was probably by becoming a gun fielder. I’ve worked really hard on it, and it’s paid off.
“It’s not as good as I want it to be yet. Heino Kuhn, who left Kent a couple of years ago, was the best I’ve seen and all the boys said he was comfortably the best in the world. Learning from him – watching batters and working out where they’re going to hit the ball before they do – has definitely helped me a lot.”
Cox is used to spending time in subcontinent hotels after touring India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh with England Under-19s, but Karachi will still feel a long way away from Canterbury.
“I’m really looking forward to getting going. Hopefully I’ll get an opportunity, and I’ll try to take it with both hands.”