Pakistan face a daunting task ahead of them as they prepare for their two match Test series against England starting May 24, having won only two of their last 11 Test matches. The series will also be a telling point of Sarfraz Ahmed’s captaincy that got off to a shaky start in the longest format of the game after they were beaten by an inexperienced Sri Lankan side 2-0 in UAE.
One of Sarfraz’s latest inclusions to the team, debutant Imam-ul-Haq, whose selection to the team was overshadowed by his relation to Pakistan’s chief selector, his uncle Inzamam ul Haq, put up an unbeaten 74 to deny Ireland an unlikely Test debut victory on the fifth day of the Test at Malahide on Tuesday.
The winning knock will certainly help ease the pressure off the left-handed batsmen, who can further stake his claim for a spot in Pakistan’s Test side that will face England in two Tests at Lord’s from May 24 to May 28 and Headingley from June 1 to June 5 and possibly repay the faith with sturdy performances in England.
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And former Pakistan captain Asif Iqbal, who has accumulated 3575 runs from his 58 Test appearances against some of the finest bowling opposition in the history of the sport, certainly seems confident of the 22-year-old’s abilities.
“Imam seems to have already replied to his critics with some good scores in both warm-up games and in the Test against Ireland so not much needs to be said about that,” Iqbal said speaking to PakPassion.net.
“Personally speaking, I have always been a strong advocate of sportsmen who when confronted with criticism simply respond to their critics by performing well on the field of play. They don’t need to come on television or speak to the media about the criticism levelled at them.
“A good performance on the field is all the response that is needed by Imam and he has done that to some extent. It is not his fault that he is the nephew of Inzamam-ul-Haq. The fact is that he is good enough and that is why he was chosen for the team and we hope he will do that in the coming days.”
Amir unlucky in last England tour
Pakistan pacer Mohammad Amir, who is expected to lead his team’s bowling attack against England despite the recurrence of his “chronic” left knee problem, recently claimed his 100th Test wicket against Ireland.
After retiring off just 3.2 overs on the third day, Amir made a swift comeback on Monday, the second last day of the historic Test to reach the landmark figure despite being banned for five years by the International Cricket Council (ICC) for his involvement in a spot-fixing scandal during a 2010 Test against England at Lord’s.
And now, after making his return to the international stage two years ago, the 26-year-old will be expected to better his record against the hosts, which saw him claim 11 wickets in Pakistan’s tour of England in 2016, a four match series that was drawn 2-2.
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“There is always pressure on Amir to perform as he is clearly the spearhead of our bowling attack. Looking back a bit to the 2016 tour of England, where Amir made a comeback in Tests, he was terribly unlucky that so many catches off his bowling were dropped,” said Iqbal.
“This must have made a huge impact on his confidence but it seems that people have forgotten about that. Amir remains our best bowler and I know that when Azhar Mahmood spoke about wanting more from him, he was referring to lack of wickets and not the lack of effort which Amir cannot be faulted for. As I said, I firmly believe that he is our main bowler, and god willing, he will perform well for Pakistan,” he added.
Pakistan’s record against England in England has not been the best in recent years. They have drawn two and lost two series since the turn of the century; their last Test series win in England coming in 1996.
And Iqbal while admitting that the hosts hold the home advantage highlighted their poor record in their last two Test series and said that Pakistan’s next gen are capable of causing an upset.
“It’s no secret that each home side has an advantage when playing on their own turf. If you look at England, they played in Australia recently and lost 4-0 to the hosts and then later on, also lost in the away series against New Zealand,” said Iqbal.
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“The fact is that every team starts as favourites in their home-series and so will be the case when England play Pakistan in the upcoming series. However, our young players are a very capable lot and to tell you the truth, I will be surprised and disappointed if they don’t do well.”
Talking about the role of spin playing an important role in deciding the outcome, he said: “The reality of the matter is that the weather plays an important part in the outcome of games in England. Test matches held in this part of the year are played in conditions which are not conducive to spin bowling. Having said that, if Pakistan play their matches in weather such as what we saw recently in Northampton, then Shadab could play a big role in Pakistan’s success.”
Misbah, Younis can be replaced
Sharing his opinion on the loss of batting greats Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan and on replacing the lost generation, Iqbal said that players of such caliber are cultivated over time and so, young players must be allowed the same courtesy to take over from the greats.
“I recall that in our playing days, similar questions were asked about how Pakistan would cope when the likes of Imran Khan and Javed Miandad retired but we managed alright. After that era, we heard that we would have problems when Saeed Anwar retired and so on,” said Iqbal.
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“Moving to our current situation, I do not believe that it’s the case that we don’t have replacements for Misbah and Younis. It’s just a case of it taking longer to get such talented players like the two retired batsmen. Remember that players like Zaheer Abbas also took time to establish themselves in international cricket and similarly the future replacements for Misbah and Younis will take some time to learn the ropes,” he explained.
“I have no doubt about the talent available in Pakistan today. In fact, I take off my hat to these youngsters as the amount of different types of formats they play in today’s world of cricket is remarkable. And to add to that complication, they are unable to play any series at home and spend most of their playing time away from their country, yet they continue to play with resolve and have shown some good results. They are the number one team in T20Is and have also won the Champions Trophy recently, so yes, they may have a period of adjustment because of Misbah and Younis’ retirements, but they need to be given credit for their effort,” he ended.