ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistan skipper and fast bowling legend Wasim Akram believes the key to victory for Azhar Ali and company in the forthcoming first Test against England will revolve around the ability of their batsmen to set the tone and then allow time for leg-spinner Yasir Shah to weave his magic.
“England are firm favourites but, make no mistake, Pakistan have the ability to upset England, as long as they can get runs on the board,” inews.co.uk quoted Wasim as saying.
Pakistan play England in the first Test of a three-game series at Old Trafford, Manchester on Wednesday.
“Scores of 250 are not going to trouble England, what Pakistan need to be aiming for, batting first, are scores of 350 or more and then build pressure on England,” Wasim, who took 414 wickets in 104 Tests in an illustrious career, underlined.
“If Pakistan can get those runs on the board in the first innings, then that brings Yasir into the equation and he could be the main weapon, especially on the Old Trafford pitch.”
Wasim said the Pakistan batting would be comforted by prolific batsman Babar Azam at their disposal.
“Pakistan have to be positive against England and not go into their shell and be defensive,” he warned.
“It will be tough against the likes of [pace bowlers] James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who are both great bowlers and have over 1,000 Test wickets between them,” the 54-year-old Wasim, who is regarded by experts as one of the finest left-arm pacers of all times, remarked.
“But I expect that Babar will be the main star for Pakistan and although there will be pressure on him. I think he can cope with the expectations and pressure and show the world why he is so highly rated.”
But Wasim wants the senior players to put Pakistan into positions of strength against England.
“The opening partnership for Pakistan is vital and both Shan Masood and Abid Ali need to show resilience and a lot of skill to see off the new ball,” he highlighted.
“The lower-order and tail will need to be brave and provide important runs later in the innings.
Wasim continued, “Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq are the two most experienced batsmen in the squad and a lot will depend on them. I want these two batsmen to lead from the front and show responsibility as the younger batsmen will be looking to them for guidance.”
The 35-year-old Azhar has played 78 Tests with 16 centuries while Asad, 34, has featured in 74 Tests scoring 12 hundreds in those games. Azhar was part of Pakistan’s Test campaign in 2010, 2016 and 2018, and Asad played Test matches on English soil in 2016 and 2018.
Wasim was naturally excited about the presence of young pacers Naseem Shah and Shaheen Shah Afridi but feels that how they are managed and guided throughout the Test series will be crucial.
“I am excited about these two boys and I hope they continue the tradition of great pace bowlers from Pakistan. They are the future for Pakistan and I hope that they learn from Chris Woakes, Anderson and Broad and look at the length they bowled consistently, which enabled them to swing the ball against West Indies,” Wasim stated.
“This is where Waqar Younis’ experience as the bowling coach will be vital in guiding these two young bowlers. Pitch it up, let it swing, as short bowling won’t work. Too often young bowlers get very excited in England and want to bang the ball in, but consistent line and lengths with the Dukes ball will work.”
In Wasim’s view, Pakistan need to make good use of the vast experience of a coaching staff that features prominent figures like Waqar, Misbah-ul-Haq (head coach), Younis Khan (batting coach) and Mushtaq Ahmed (spin bowling coach).
“Pakistan have built up a strong array of former players within the management structure, all with a lot of experience of English conditions,” Wasim noted.
“And they will need to utilise all that knowledge in assessing the pitches and weather occasions and not make the mistakes that West Indies made.
“I urge the Pakistani think tank not to just focus on the weather. Instead, they will have to carefully assess the pitches at Old Trafford and Southampton, where there will be no big surprises regarding the surfaces and how they will play,” Wasim said.
Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2020