Abhijit Chowdhury
With a brilliantly fought series win over West Indies, England surely is oozing with confidence as they get ready to host Pakistan in a three-match Test series. The form in which Joe Root and Co. sealed the deal against the Windies, one might not hesitate a bit to place a bet on England for the upcoming series. But the opposition here is the ever-unpredictable Pakistan. They can upset any team on a given day or can lose to a lower-ranked team without much trouble. The Pakistani team always seemed like a moody one. It will also be interesting to see how Azhar Ali fares as the captain with all the buzz surrounding Babar Azam’s captaincy in the limited-overs’ format. And also how to fit the Pakistanis are after a prolonged lockdown due to the pandemic.

Pakistan last played a test match six months back, on the other hand, the English are fresh out of a competitive series. So, the first question that arises about the Pak team is whether or not they are fully fit. The subcontinent side has reached England a month before the start of the series and they have undergone the necessary quarantine and safety measures before beginning with their training and practice matches.

Pakistan certainly can cause England an issue or two. However, England, with matches under their belt already, hold the aces. They look good for a first-up win. But an interesting fact about the host England is that they have lost the first game in eight of their last 10 test series, including against the West Indies. But the main focus here has to on the Pakistani batsmen. They need to score something between 350 to 450 at least to put some pressure on the English batting order. If Pakistan can get those runs on the board in the first innings, then that brings Yasir into the equation and he could be the main weapon, especially on the Old Trafford pitch which generally tends to be on the drier side.

Pakistan has to be positive against England and not go into their shell and be defensive. But is the Pakistani side good enough with no match practice behind them to stand tall against the English pace attack? It will be tough against the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who are both great bowlers and have over 1,000 Test wickets between them. Against them, Babar Azam is the one who is expected to show his flair and prove his worthiness of being compared to the likes of Kohli, Smith, Root, and Kane.

The opening partnership for Pakistan is vital and both Shan Masood and Abid Ali need to show resilience. Though the opening seemed to be a problem for the English as well, as they were not clicking together; that is gone now as the duo put up a show in the last innings of the last test against the Windies.

The lower-order and tail will need to be brave and provide important runs later in the innings. This has been a problem for Pakistan ever since they started playing. Whereas England has an upper hand in this area with Stuart Broad even joining the party with the bat after a long long time. And the likes of Woakes and Archer are more than handy with the bat. They have pivots, namely Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler who are good at protecting the tail and stretching the innings.

This pivotal department in the Pakistan team has to be taken up by Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq. They are the two most experienced batsmen in the squad and a lot will depend on them. These two batsmen need to lead from the front and show responsibility as the younger batsmen will be looking to them for guidance.

The 35-year-old Azhar has played 78 Tests with 16 centuries while Asad, 34, has featured in 74 Tests scoring 12 hundred in those games. Azhar was part of Pakistan’s Test campaign in 2010, 2016, and 2018, and Asad played Test matches on English soil in 2016 and 2018.

Old Trafford assisted the bowlers in both Tests against West Indies. However, runs were on offer for those who showed patience and determination. Pakistani batsmen would have to learn from that and occupy the crease to make their effort count.

For the Pakistani bowling department, young pacers Naseem Shah and Shaheen Shah Afridi will be an exciting prospect. It will be interesting to see the makeup of Pakistan’s bowling attack. Do they play both their exciting youngsters straight away? But it will be a crucial matter to be seen that how they are managed and guided throughout the Test series. It was here in England when an immensely talented Mohammad Amir fell prey to the bookies and lost precious years from his career.

But hopefully, in this tour, Waqar Younis’ experience as the bowling coach will be vital in guiding these two young bowlers. Pitch it up, let it swing, as short bowling won’t work. Too often young bowlers get very excited in England and want to bang the ball in, but consistent line and lengths with the Dukes ball will work.

Pakistan needs to make good use of the vast experience of a coaching staff that features prominent figures like Waqar, Misbah-ul-Haq (head coach), Younis Khan (batting coach) and Mushtaq Ahmed (spin bowling coach). Though it is going to be the players who will turn up on the pitch to try and win it.

PAK vs ENG head to head Test stats are in favor of the latter. They played their first Test against each other in 1954. Since then, they have met each other a total of 83 times in the longest format of the game, and England cricket team has won on 25 occasions whereas the Pakistani side has bagged 21 victories. But these stats are of no value as the new normal conditions are going to be different. And though England is the favorite in the upcoming series, Pakistan can never be written off.

England’s predicted XI: 1. Rory Burns, 2. Dominic Sibley, 3. Zak Crawley, 4. Joe Root (c), 5. Ben Stokes, 6. Ollie Pope, 7. Jos Buttler (wk), 8. Chris Woakes, 9. Jofra Archer, 10. Stuart Broad, 11. James Anderson

Pakistan’s predicted XI: 1. Shan Masood, 2. Abid Ali, 3. Azhar Ali (c), 4. Babar Azam, 5. Asad Shafiq, 6. Fawad Alam, 7. Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 8. Yasir Shah, 9. Shaheen Shah Afridi, 10. Naseem Shah, 11. Mohammad Abbas

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