KARACHI: Pakistan’s head coach Misbah-ul-Haq has said his charges have had good preparations for the upcoming three-Test series against Joe Root’s men since their arrival in England almost five weeks ago and he expressed optimism for a hard-fought series.
With the first Test set to start from Wednesday at Manchester’s Old Trafford, with the remaining two fixtures to be played at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, Misbah claimed that Pakistan would put up a better performance in their endeavour to improve their ranking in the ICC World Test Championship (WTC).
While talking to the Pakistan-based reporters during a PCB online conference on Monday, the former national team captain said England — who are now third in the WTC table after a come-from-behind 2-1 series triumph against the West Indies — are tough to play in their own backyard but are prone to poor start at the beginning of the series.
We may go in with two spinners in first Test, says head coach
“I think Pakistan mustn’t miss out the chance to catch them [England] unguarded as the West Indies did in the first Test,” said Misbah. “But having said that, we’ve got to play very good cricket if we want to win the series. England may have the advantage of playing West Indies, but we aren’t going to make it comfortable for the home side.” he added from Old Trafford. “Preparation-wise, we’ve done extremely well since coming to England after a three-month period of total inactivity due to the Covid-19 situation. The real challenge is mental because, if you think in a positive frame of mind, things become much easier to handle.”
“The squad looks in good shape after thorough training sessions and the intra-squad matches we had in Worcester and Derby. Obviously the boys are eager to prove their mettle against a competitive England side who are on a high after winning the West Indies series. We are now looking forward to the series. On top of it all, the West Indies Tests gave us a clear insight what we can achieve in the coming weeks.”
The 46-year-old Misbah, who is country’s most successful Test captain in history, indicated Pakistan may opt for more than one spinner but everything would hinge on the unpredictable Manchester weather.
“By nature, the Old Trafford pitch does help the spinners and thus far [since the team’s arrival in Manchester] it appears to be the same as was the case in the two Tests against the West Indies over past couple of weeks,” he said. “At the same we also keep eye on the weather conditions because rain is in the air. That could definitely play a role in determining our strategy whether to play an extra spinner or not. But no doubt the possibility is there.”
The head coach, who is also the chief selector, negated the impression that Pakistan would start the series as favourites due to the changing scenario.
“We are not looking much at what the experts say, particularly if the weather is sunny and favourable to Pakistan. The climate in this part of the world varies a lot and one never knows when sun suddenly gives way to dark clouds and the temperature drops down rapidly. Batting in such conditions becomes challenging because the ball starts to move a lot,” Misbah remarked. “Therefore, our focus is to utilise our basics and that is to play positive cricket. There is an element of nervousness at the beginning of the series but once the players take the field it goes away. Being here for nearly five weeks can be tough on the players but to their credit they are all hungry and raring to go because they’ve been busy in terms of preparations [for the series].”
He was candid in saying Pakistan may suffer in comparison to England batting while adding senior players like captain Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq must step up and take responsibility.
“Obviously when Younis Khan [now batting coach] and I retired in 2017, the team lost huge experience on the batting front. But both Azhar and Asad are well-established Test batsmen and this series give them a golden opportunity to score big runs consistently, something they have unfortunately not been doing,” the head coach lamented. “If you look at Babar Azam one can say that he has really come of age across all formats and the reason why he is successful because he takes on the challenge [of scoring runs]. Moreover, since becoming limited-overs captain, Babar has handled the pressure really well and responded to the pressure admirably if you look at his stats.
“Hopefully, Azhar and Asad are good enough players to overcome the problems they had been facing. And then we have Shan Masood and Abid Ali who have performed exceptionally in the home series against Sri Lanka and Shan also scored a hundred against Bangladesh. So our bases are covered as far as batting is concerned.”
Misbah, however, conceded that in the wake of novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic worldwide Pakistan have to adjust to the rescheduling of international games against England because the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB), under strict instructions from their government had to ensure that matches can by only played at venues having bio-secure facilities.
When the tours to England by the West Indies and Pakistan were first announced in August 2019, the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) had planned to host West Indies first in three Tests at The Oval, Edgbaston and Lord’s in June 2020 before taking on Pakistan in another series of three Tests at Lord’s (July 30-Aug 3), Old Trafford (Aug 7-11) and Trent Bridge (Aug 20-24) and three Twenty20 Internationals (Headingley, Aug 29), Cardiff (Aug 31) and Southampton (Sept 2).
“The scheduling is not in our hands but our track record on the last two England tours is excellent [2-2 in 2016 when Misbah led Pakistan and 1-1 in 2018 under Sarfaraz Ahmed’s captaincy]. No doubt both Lord’s and The Oval [the two London venues have seen Pakistan score five victories apiece against England] have been sort of happy-hunting grounds for us. But again we have to accept what’s been offered to Pakistan in very difficult times due to Covid-19 lockdown,” Misbah said. “At the end of the day we must realise that challenges are there to be accepted and win against a good side like England will not be easy. You can’t hope that everything is planned as what you want. However, I must say there are encouraging signs that we observed both at Southampton and here in Manchester.
“The pitches are not that dissimilar to what we have been used to at Lord’s and The Oval. There’s hint of spin as well as reverse swing at the two venues we’ll be playing. There’s no doubt the scenario is different and how we perform is all that will matter. Mind you when we played at Old Trafford previously in 2016 there was nothing [in the pitch] for the spinners during the entire duration of that Test match.”
Misbah agreed that the top-order batting would probably decide the outcome of the series because both sides have pretty strong set of bowlers who can challenge the batsmen.
“We must cross the 300 figure consistently and our top batsmen must come good. West Indies failed because they didn’t get big totals. Coming to the bowling, I still believe there is no doubt the potential and talent of Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah as well as the experience of Mohammad Abbas. And although we don’t have the loads of experience that James Anderson and Stuart Broad bring with almost 1,100 Test wickets between them, Pakistan do have the firepower to trouble the England batsmen,” Misbah concluded.
Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2020