Writing in his latest blog on PakPassion.net, Pakistan all-rounder Azhar Mahmood looks forward to his role as assistant coach for Pakistan's limited overs' teams during the England tour where he will work closely with Mickey Arthur, the importance of Yasir Shah to Pakistan's chances against England and assesses Pakistan’s batting line-up in the upcoming Test series.
By Azhar Mahmood (2nd July, 2016)
Coaching Role for Pakistan
Naturally I'm delighted at being given another opportunity to serve my country in a coaching role. It's a huge honour and I'm thankful to the Pakistan Cricket Board for giving me this chance. The Board asked about my availability which I confirmed to them, but obviously we had to sort a few issues out as I am under contract with Surrey for the domestic Twenty20 competition in England. My appointment is just for the limited overs leg of the series against England and it's something that I am really looking forward to. As for future assignments with the PCB, let’s wait and see.
Working with Mickey Arthur
I'm looking forward to working with Mickey Arthur who of course is a very experienced coach. I've not had a chance to chat with him yet about what he wants from me, but it should be a good experience working with him for the betterment of Pakistan cricket. It will be good to sit down with Mickey and discuss our plans for the limited overs matches against England. I've played a lot of cricket in England and I'll be more than happy to pass on my experience to the Pakistan squad during the upcoming tour. It’s obviously Mickey’s first series as Pakistan Head Coach so it will be great if we could get off to a good start.
What can an international bowling coach achieve?
At the international level, a bowling coach's influence is minimal because what you are basically doing is providing your bowlers with plans that they need to stick to. You cannot make drastic changes to a bowler's action or totally overhaul the way they bowl mid-series. You give the bowlers instructions and advice on where to bowl to the opposition batsmen and what those batsmen's strengths and weaknesses are. You can provide the bowlers with technical advice on wrist position etc but you cannot make drastic changes to what the bowlers have learnt at the academies and at junior level. The role in my opinion is more about guidance than drastic changes, as bowlers at international level should already know and have a good understanding of the basics of bowling.
Time for the other bowlers to step up and support Mohammad Amir
Mohammad Amir will be lethal in English conditions, but there will be pressure on him and everyone needs to realise that he is playing Test cricket after nearly six years so expectations need to be realistic. Pace can rattle England and that is where Wahab Riaz can step up. He took a five-for last time he toured England and I expect him to bowl well on this tour. Wahab Riaz, Imran Khan and Rahat Ali all need to step up and support Mohammad Amir and bowl as a unit, rather than individually. Pakistan has a very good pace bowling combination with the skills of Mohammad Amir, pace of Wahab Riaz and the ability to swing the ball of Rahat Ali and Imran Khan. Whilst Pakistan has three left-arm pace bowlers, they are all different in the way they bowl and have different strengths.
The importance of Yasir Shah
It may seem that he comes into the Test series undercooked but I think he will have been bowling plenty of overs in the nets even during his ban. It's also important that he gets plenty of overs under his belt in the warm up matches ahead of the first Test. Yasir Shah has a key and very important role for Pakistan as he is an attacking spinner and will not want the England batsmen to settle down. We know that England batsmen struggle against high-class spinners and Yasir Shah's influence will be even greater if the weather is to his advantage. I expect Yasir to have a good series providing he is patient. Patience is the key for Yasir Shah, because if he becomes impatient then his accuracy will suffer.
I don't think Pakistan's batsmen should fear Stuart Broad and James Anderson. Yes, respect them but don't go into the series nervous and fearing the opposition as that would be disastrous. The Pakistan batting line-up is experienced and the likes of Mohammad Hafeez, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq have been around on the international scene for a long time now. Pakistan's batting does not look as fragile as some people are suggesting. Add Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan to the aforementioned and you have a solid-looking batting unit. Conditions will be tough for the Pakistani batsmen, but most of them have played in England before and toured here previously. Pakistan’s philosophy should be to put at least 300 runs on the board and then unleash the bowlers. Pakistan haven't come to England with a batting line-up of novices like Sri Lanka did, they have come here with an experienced unit and that is very important. Most of the Pakistan top order have played around the world and they should be battle-hardened. If they utilise their experience then there is no reason why we should see batting collapses like there were on the 2010 tour of England.
Don't write off Pakistan
The hosts are a formidable team at home and they are playing good cricket but don't write off Pakistan against England. The bowling attack that Pakistan has at its disposal is an excellent one and can cause the English batsmen a lot of problems. Stuart Broad and James Anderson are very good bowlers, but if the Pakistan batsmen plan well, play according to the conditions and bat in a way that is in accordance with how to bat in England, then they can hold their own with ease. I expect it to be a hard-fought series with both teams' bowlers dominating, but I don’t think it will be the one-sided affair in favour of England that some are predicting.