Pakistan’s dependence on spearhead Mohammad Amir is natural. In an inexperienced bowling attack, they hope Amir could lead from the front, more so in the opening Test against England starting at Lord’s from Thursday.
Having shown his desire to play more limited overs cricket than in Tests, this Test tour of England may set the direction for Amir. Amir has not been in the best of form and fitness since the tour started. Since his return from a spot-fixing ban, Amir has 49 wickets in 17 Tests, which is much below than Pakistan expect from him. That said, some 17 dropped catches off his bowling should also be taken into account.
In the tour opener against Kent, he sent 30 wicket-less overs but then managed five wickets in the Ireland Test, also completing 100 Test wickets in the way. But at Dublin, he walked off with a right knee problem but the team management is confident he will be raring to go.
“He’s perfect, 100 percent. He’s fine he’s ready to go,” said a confident Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur. “It was his rotation. (Mohammad) Abbas sat out the first game, Hasan (Ali) sat out the second, so he sat out the third.”
Pakistan announced 12 for the first Test, with Hasan Ali likely to miss out after injuring his webbing and not bowling in the nets on Tuesday. Faheem Ashraf provides the much-needed bowling option as an all-rounder.
Arthur, still believes, Amir has to be the man-to-go.
“I think Amir is the finest exponent of pace and swing when he gets it 100 percent right. We’ve used that spell that Trent Boult bowled in Auckland,” said Arthur of Boult’s six-wicket burst which bundled England out for a measly 58 in March this year.
“We’ve had a look at his lengths and the England batsmen then were on the back of a really tough winter for them. We believe he bowls incredibly well at left-handers and there will be three left-handers (Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan) in the (England) top four.
“He’s ready, I just hope it goes really well for him because he’s been unlucky at times with the amount of dropped catches. He’s ready, he’s determined, he’s fit, he’s strong, he’s excited, he’s in a very good place at the moment so I just hope it goes really well for him.”
Pakistan coach shrugged off any worries over the lack of runs from Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, although Shafiq got a fifty against Ireland and Azhar against Leicestershire.
“I’m not at all worried by them. They are quality players, their records speak for themselves — they’ve got very good Test records. They roll up, they are big-match players, they’re fine and they are all batting really well at the moment. They are getting stuck in, nets were challenging today which was good but the guys stuck it out really well.
“I’m confident they’ll deliver for us.”
Arthur, whose first assignment in 2016 saw Pakistan drawing a Test series in England 2-2 in 2016, praised the opponents.
“England are always good. In their home conditions, England are a different team from England abroad. To be honest, we are just worrying about ourselves. We are a very young Test cricket team at the moment and we’ve changed the brand, changed the way we want to play — gone five batsmen and five bowlers — we are just looking to build. We’ve got a lot of young players who we want to give a lot of experience to so our focus has just been on ourselves.
“We’ve had a look obviously at (Jos) Buttler, he adds an attacking side to England, but our focus is very firmly on us and us doing our basics 100 percent.”
Asked would Pakistan continue to prove people wrong, Arthur said: “Of course we can, definitely. We haven’t come here not to win. If we play well enough, it’s a changing room full of very, very skilled cricketers, very young cricketers, fearless cricketers, guys that don’t fear failure. They are an intelligent, skilful bunch of cricketers, who if we get the breaks and things go our way will certainly put England under pressure.”
Pakistan’s main concerns will also be their batting but with newcomer Imam-ul-Haq hitting a fighting fifty on debut against Ireland gives them some consolation.
“Imam’s a totally different character to Inzi. I don’t think it fazes him that much to be honest. Nothing really fazes him. He’s on cloud nine at the moment. He played beautifully for us, under pressure, against Ireland in his Test debut.
“He got a hundred on debut in one-day (international) cricket. He’s living the dream and he’s rolling with the punches at the moment. He’s fine. I don’t think that fazes hi at all, to be perfectly frank.”
Arthur’s main focus has been on building a culture of fitness and unity, which he feels is thriving in his charges.
“First of all, we are an incredibly fit unit. The guys have trained unbelievably hard, not that we weren’t coming in 2016 but that was the start of almost the fitness regime.
“The brand of cricket we are playing is certainly a more attacking brand. We felt we needed to change with the times and get another bowler in. We felt another bowler would lessen the load, particularly not having Yasir (Shah) here. And we are a more attacking side at the moment. Our batters will score quick.
“The emphasis is on taking wickets and on scoring (quickly). There are going to be times when you need to control the game but it’s all about the attack but that’s not about getting blase because there are going to be moments when you have to show a lot of patience and absorb a bit of pressure.
“But for us, the best form of pressure is if we can put pressure back on the opposition and we do that by attacking.”
“We were probably a more negative team in 2016 then we are now but that wasn’t a bad thing because that fitted exactly what we wanted at that point in time.”
Pakistan will miss experienced and wily spinner Yasir Shah, who took ten wickets in Pakistan’s win at Lord’s last time around, but Shadab Khan seems to have come up to expectations, if not fully making up for the loss.
“Shadab’s a wonderful talent. Like many of the young guys do, he cut his teeth in Twenty20 cricket but he’s bowled a lot of overs — he played five or six first-class games. He had a Test match in Barbados which didn’t go that well for him but he learnt a hell of a lot from it though. He learned he needed to be a lot more consistent.
“In that Test match I likened him to Imran Tahir — he was leg-spinner, the leg-spinner, googly, googly whereas now he is understanding what he needs to do.
“He’s built pressure for us at times, he controlled the (run) rate for us beautifully in Malahide and he’s got all the tricks.
“He can defend and attack, he’s a wonderful talent. I hope you see the best of him here because he’s going to be special.”