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In his latest blog for PakPassion.net, Mohammad Zahid writes about the challenges that lie ahead for Pakistan batsmen in the upcoming Test series against Ireland and England, Fawad Alam's exclusion from the touring squad, how Mickey Arthur has instilled unity into the Pakistan side and why James Anderson's bowling skills at home could make life a misery for the Pakistani batsmen.
By Mohammad Zahid (28th April, 2018)


Damp conditions in England will be a supreme test for Pakistan batsmen

So, Pakistan are back in England again as they prepare for the only Test against Ireland and then a 2-match series against England. To be honest, I do not expect much of a challenge for Sarfaraz Ahmed and Co. in the match against Ireland. In Limited Overs formats, Ireland could have posed a threat for Pakistan, but I don’t see any concern in Tests. Of course, the pressure will always be on Pakistan when they play an inexperienced opponent like Ireland as the home side will have nothing to lose and all to gain from any positives in this match. Add to that the prevailing weather conditions in that area and that could also tilt things in Ireland’s favour.

All said and done, the real test and one that will be very interesting to watch will be the Test series between England and Pakistan. To start with, the conditions in England are still very damp and as such the pitches will be moist, offering little in terms of pace but a lot more in sideways movement. This will be a huge test for Pakistan’s inexperienced batting line-up but to be fair to them, as we have seen in the past, even experienced players from the sub-continent have struggled in such conditions so we really shouldn't be too harsh on our young side.


Pakistan bowling will give them an edge against England

The batting line-up that Pakistan have chosen for this series really has just a few names that can be considered as experienced. Apart from Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Sarfaraz Ahmed, the rest of the batters are still new to Test cricket. Babar Azam has had great success in Limited Overs cricket, but he also needs to do the same in Tests and I also have high hopes of Fakhar Zaman who has shown a lot of promise but whether he can replicate his form from the shorter formats of the game in Tests is yet to be seen. Regardless of our issues with batting, where Pakistan have a definite advantage and where they can take on England with ease is in the bowling department. Pakistan has a better bowling attack than England and Pakistan's bowling will give them an edge in this series. 

We all know what Mohammad Amir is capable of, but he will need to put in some special performances and deliver for Pakistan in this series. But amongst the other bowlers chosen for this series, I feel that Hasan Ali’s impact will be limited as he is a bowler who is good on drier pitches. Mohammad Abbas, on the other hand, is more likely to trouble batsmen on English pitches, whilst Rahat Ali could also be a handful too. I also have high hopes from the bowling of Faheem Ashraf who could well play in the side as an all-rounder. Yasir Shah will also be missed in this series but I feel that this is a great opportunity for Shadab Khan to prove his importance in the longer format of the game, although bowling conditions in early summer in England may not be the most ideal for a spin bowler. 


 
 



Pakistan should exploit weaknesses in England's batting 

Whilst we may rightly be worried about our own batting strength, we must not also overlook the fact that England’s batting is not that strong either and our bowlers could easily trouble them in the upcoming series. I am expecting our bowlers to play with some spirit and come hard at the opposition, take the game to England and if we do that, we could come out on top in this series. 


Not being selected for tour of England could well turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Fawad Alam 

Fawad Alam’s exclusion from the Pakistan Test side seems to have caused a great commotion. There appears to be an endless debate regarding the merits of his suitability for the national side which seems to indicate that Fawad’s absence could affect the outcome of the upcoming series. I am aware that the popular opinion seems to favour his inclusion based upon his experience and performances in domestic cricket. I also know Fawad on a personal level very well and recognise the fact that he has been on the scene for a long time, but I have always had my reservations about his technique. Based on that, I would agree with the selectors that a youngster be preferred over Fawad for this tour and be given a chance to prove himself. 

But Fawad should not give up as his career has some way to go. There is no denying the depth of his experience and the fact that Pakistan lacks some battle-hardened names in its batting order, and even when we talk of technique we know that batsmen like Viv Richards, Javed Miandad and Younis Khan were not exactly great examples of having ideal batting techniques. We also know that this tour is likely to be tough for batsmen. If Fawad had been chosen for this tour and then failed, his chances of future selection would be all but gone. In a way, not being selected for the tour of England could well turn out to be a blessing in disguise for him and I do believe his chance to once again represent Pakistan will come at a later date.


Mickey Arthur should be credited for unifying Pakistan’s cricket team

I am sure Mickey knows that as Head Coach of Pakistan, there will be tremendous pressure on him to succeed in all formats of the game. As we have seen recently in the media, there is no let-up on the pressure on him as people tend to remember failures more than successes. But we must remember that Mickey has a very tough task at hand and that is to Coach a difficult side such as Pakistan. As history has shown, Pakistan sides have been notoriously tough to manage as there can be all sorts of regional divisions in the side and personal likes and dislikes can also cause strife amongst players. We may have won or lost games in his tenure but if there is one overriding achievement that Mickey Arthur has so far to show for his time with Pakistan, that is the incredible unity which the team now possesses. They seem to me to be marching to the same tune and are united under Pakistan’s banner. Pakistan's side of today plays like a team instead of a disparate bunch of talented players. If you look at Bangladesh, you will see that whilst they lose games, they show a tremendous amount of team spirit which makes a huge difference. This is the same type of unity we are seeing in the Pakistan side now. 

The other important aspect is that he has taken decisions for the betterment of Pakistan cricket and has not been influenced by what popular opinion may demand. For example, he has removed Umar Akmal from the side despite the furore by many and replaced him with able, energetic younger players which is a great sign for the future of Pakistan cricket. His focus is to help Pakistan progress and he does not worry about ‘big names’ of Pakistan cricket being sidelined for the benefit of the team. The upcoming series against England will be a tough one and it may not end to many people’s liking, but no one should doubt the positives that Mickey Arthur has brought to Pakistan cricket. 


James Anderson can easily make life a misery for all visiting batsmen

James Anderson may not bowl at express pace these days but make no mistake that in English conditions he will make life a misery for all visiting batsmen. Anderson is a master of his craft and an expert in using home conditions as his statistics clearly indicate. Pakistan’s batting order may have some talent in it, but they are likely to struggle against James Anderson as well as Stuart Broad in my view. There is some hope from the likes of Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq to weather this storm, but Babar Azam will really need to prove himself here. Many who watched Fakhar Zaman bat during the Champions Trophy last summer would have been heartened by his performances in England but let’s not forget that the tournament was played in late summer and also the ODI pitches are suited to batsmen. All in all, this is a great opportunity for young batsmen like Fakhar to prove themselves but whether the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad will allow them that luxury will become evident in a few weeks’ time.