Pakistan will be aiming to extend their excellent record against England in the past decade when the two sides meet in the first Test in Manchester on Wednesday.
The hosts will be buoyant after a come-from-behind victory against West Iindies last month, although they have failed to beat Pakistan in a Test series for nearly a decade.
For the tourists, dusting off the cobwebs will take priority as they take the field for their first Test encounter since February. Adapting to conditions quickly in England will not be an easy feat, but Pakistan have shown that they are capable of doing so in their two most recent tours of the country.
The fact that England aren’t the quickest of starters is a vulnerability the visitors can exploit at Old Trafford Cricket Ground. In eight of their last 10 series, Joe Root’s men have suffered a defeat in the opening Test.
While their victory over West Indies in the deciding Test was an emphatic one, the hosts were given several uncomfortable moments in the preceding three-match series. With an enviable pace attack containing Naseem Shah at their disposal, Pakistan will definitely back themselves to give England a far more rigorous examination than the Caribbean side.
However, it is their batting which will ultimately decide their fate in the series. England’s pace unit is buzzing with confidence after the heroics of a rejuvenated Stuart Broad against the West Indies.
Having just joined the elusive 500-wickets club, an in-form Broad will prove to be a handful to handle for the visitors.
Meanwhile, veteran seamer James Anderson is just 11 wickets away from becoming the first fast bowler in history to claim 600 Test wickets. The unsettling pace of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood will be troublesome too, as will the reliable swing of Chris Woakes and Sam Curran.
With such variety and options in the bowling front at England’s disposal, batsmen will need to raise the bar if Pakistan are to stand a chance. Naturally, the spotlight is on Babar Azam and deservedly so after his rich vein of form in the last two years.
Since the start of 2018, no batsman has averaged higher than the Pakistan star’s phenomenal 65.47. There were once question marks over his red-ball credentials, but those have been emphatically wiped away by his showings in Australia and Pakistan.
With a century in each of his last three Test appearances, the right-hander will most certainly hold the key for Pakistan’s batting hopes against England.
Five tons and nearly 1,400 runs in his last 26 innings in the format indicate a batsman who has finally mastered the art of the five-day format. He has played just the solitary Test innings in England previously and did manage a solid 68 at Lord’s before being forced to retire hurt.
There seems to be an air of inevitability with Babar now, and the right-hander looks primed to make a statement in England. However, just an in-form Babar alone won’t be enough for Pakistan.
Virat Kohli was in superb touch in India’s 2018 tour of England, but a lack of contributions from the other batsmen saw the visitors suffer a comprehensive series defeat.
At least one other batsman apart from Babar will need to stand tall in England, but the rest of the batting unit doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Skipper Azhar Ali hasn’t had the best of runs in England previously, and averages less than 30 in 24 innings on English shores.
The other experienced player in Asad Shafiq blows hot and cold far too often despite having all the makings of a world-class batsman. Just four tons to show for in his last 33 Test appearances does not do justice to a batsman who was rated so highly at one point.
Opener Shan Masood has looked solid since coming back to the Test fold, though his past track record against England is a concerning one. One of these three senior batsmen will need to come good for Pakistan and shoulder the scoring burden along with Babar.
With Abid Ali and wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan undertaking their maiden tour of England, it will be foolish to expect miracles from them.
If the recent series between England and Windies has taught us one thing, it is the value of batsmen going on to register the big scores. Much of West Indies’ failings in the defeat were down to their batting woes, with none of their batsmen going on to register a century in six innings.
A star batsman in Babar and an impressive pace attack augurs well for Pakistan’s chances, but the defining factor in the series will fall on the rest of the supporting cast.
Can Azhar Ali and Co show their mettle? We shall find out soon enough.
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