Azhar confident about Wahab’s availability for India encounter

With arch-rivals India on the menu, Pakistan practiced hard with front line pacer Wahab Riaz in great focus. — AFP/File

BIRMINGHAM: Pakistan’s young squad looked vibrant in the practice session at Edgbaston on Wednesday as they are up for their first and the biggest challenge in the Champions Trophy four days later.

With arch-rivals India on the menu, Pakistan practiced hard with front line pacer Wahab Riaz in great focus.

Wahab, known for his five-for in the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup at Mohali, hasn’t fired in the recent matches. But with the focus on playing four seamers, the left-armer is important in Pakistan’s plans to overcome the defending champions.

Former captain Azhar Ali, who is also on a comeback trail, hoped Wahab will be fit by Sunday.

“Wahab has recovered well so we have no doubt that he will be fit to play,” Azhar told media.

“He bowled well in the nets and has shown great recovery but its international cricket you have to be 100 percent fit. He has practiced today so we are hoping that by the time the first match comes he will be able to play.”

Azhar, stripped of captaincy in February and left out of the ODI squad for the West Indies tour a month later, will himself be on the same focus as Pakistan would like a technically sound player to open the innings considering the swing conditions and an improved Indian pace attack.

He thinks his form and fitness are good to take the Indian challenge.

“My fitness and form are looking good so I really want to go in the middle and perform for Pakistan. ICC events are important so I take it as an important game. I don’t put expectations on myself as it will be putting yourself under pressure. I will try to execute my skills.”

And Azhar feels Indian seam bowling and conditions will be challenging.

“Birmingham hasn’t seen the proper summer so it will depend, I expect them to be good conditions. If there is overcast conditions then it will swing,” said Azhar, praising improvement in Indian bowling but didn’t agree it will be Indian batting versus Pakistan bowling.

“You can’t say that, every aspect is very important and teams want to do well in every department. I think every team is capable of doing well in all departments. Indian bowling has improved in the past years so they have been bowling well, in Asian conditions,” said Azhar.

India boosts of the best pace attack of all time with Mohammad Shami, Bhuveneshawar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav and Hardik Pandya in the combination.

Azhar agreed Pakistan have a long way to go in terms of matching the pace of scoring runs with other teams.

“We have worked on that,” said Azhar.  “We know that the game has gone quite a long way and we have seen some good results in the near past, so we will do our best to match that. Obviously we have to go a long way. We would love to play at the same pace as other teams do.”

Azhar played down the hype around an India-Pakistan game and the fact that Pakistan have only won twice in the Champions Trophy and never in the World Cup

“I think when the game starts its looks quite normal. They players play as per the situation and professional players are like that without worrying anything else. Look as professional players you have to take it as a game because when the game starts it’s a battle between bat and ball, so we have planned to take it as a game. Every international game doesn’t come easy for you so you have to work hard for that.”

Azhar refused to single out one player as Pakistan’s trump card.

“I think all the players have the ability to perform well. Babar Azam has batted well and scored runs consistently,” said Azhar of one drop batsman who hit three consecutive ODI hundreds last year.

“We have other youngsters as well. There is opportunity for everyone so all will be keen.”