Undercooked Pakistan bid to burst England's bubble
LONDON – Coach Misbah-ul-Haq has left no stone unturned in his preparations but Pakistan are still look decidedly undercooked for their three-test series against England in August-September.
Skipper Azhar Ali and his squad will discover how much cricket has changed in the six months since their last test, with Ccovid-19 curbs putting a stop to the use of saliva to shine the ball and forcing games to be played without fans.
The bulk of the squad arrived on Sunday after clearing a battery of tests and the matches will be staged in a bio-secure bubble, which will undoubtedly take some time to get used to.
England, however, should be well-versed in cricket's 'new normal' by the time they face Pakistan, with their home series against West Indies next month to be played in the same kind of bio-secure environment.
Pakistan left England with their heads held high after their last two tours, drawing both, most recently under Misbah in 2018.
But England have not lost a home series since 2014 and Pakistan's callow pace attack looks ill-equipped to end that streak.
Of their frontline quicks, only Mohammad Abbas has played test matches in England, with the exciting Shaheen Afridi and 17-year-old Naseem Shah having only 12 test caps between them.
Medium pacer Sohail Khan, who toured England in 2016 but has not played a test since the Boxing Day match in Australia that year, has been recalled to add his experience.
"In terms of number of games, of course England have tons of experience in their bowling," captain Azhar said before leaving for England on Sunday.
"But we have the skills: (our bowlers) are young and have a lot to offer. They can give trouble to any team in the world."
'Fragile' top order
Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Joe Denly and Zak Crawley are vying for the top three spots in England's top order and Azhar saw an opportunity.
"Looking at their batting, their top order has been fragile for some time since Alastair Cook retired," he said.
Pakistan's bowlers will also be able to call upon the knowledge and experience of coaches Waqar Younis and Mushtaq Ahmed, who won a test series in England in 1996.
Former captain Younis Khan has also come on board as batting coach for the series and has emphasized the importance of Pakistan's batsmen posting a first-innings total in excess of 300 runs.
The onus will be on Azhar and Babar Azam to provide the bulk of those runs, with the other batsmen looking to bat in partnership with the mainstays and counter England's varied pace attack, especially the dangerous Jofra Archer.
Pakistan have been whitewashed by South Africa and Australia in their last two away series and chief selector Misbah, who enjoys considerable power in Pakistan cricket, will be determined not to suffer the same fate in England.
Pakistan have traditionally preferred to wing it rather than plan it and the England series will be a good indication of whether Misbah's attempts to change that approach have made any inroads.Reuters