KARACHI: With the Test series against England all but lost, Pakistan will go into the third and final match, which starts here at the National Stadium on Saturday, with an aim to not repeat their mistakes.
The tourists — who won the Rawalpindi and Multan Tests by 74 and 27 runs respectively — on the other hand, will look to become the first team to inflict a 3-0 whitewash over the hosts in Pakistan.
Pakistan lost the first two Tests after being agonisingly close to victories. England can be credited for their victory in Rawalpindi after their captain Ben Stokes made a bold declaration on the penultimate day to give Pakistan 343 to chase in the last four sessions of the match.
In Multan though, a decent bowling performance by the hosts — thanks to debutant “mystery spinner” Abrar Ahmed’s 11-wicket show — once again put them in a decent position to chase 355 in the fourth winnings, only to fall short for the second time in a row.
It was more of Pakistan’s mistakes — mainly losing wickets at crucial moments — rather than England’s relentlessly aggressive approach towards Test cricket, called “Bazball”. And Pakistan skipper Babar Azam was brave enough to admit that.
“Things were in our own hands in both the games but we made mistakes and we are looking to improve in the future,” Babar said during the pre-match press conference on Friday.
The right-hander, however, reiterated that Pakistan’s game plans had been solid and that there was no need to change them for the Karachi Test because of how England played. It was just the execution, he said, that went wrong.
“Our plans are simple and are the same that we have been following,” Babar said. “Every team has its own way of going about the game.
“We will try to execute our plans, which is more important than what style of play we have.”
Leg-spinner Abrar was a crucial part of Pakistan’s plans in the Multan Test and will play a key role again on the National Stadium pitch, which is likely to give spinners more help as compared to Multan, given Karachi’s hotter and drier weather conditions.
“The wicket is looking quite dry; it’s a typical Karachi wicket,” Babar said. “The weather here is a bit hot too and may be the surface will help spin bowling.”
Pakistan will be without opener Imam-ul-Haq, who limped off during training on Friday.
“Imam has a hamstring problem so he will not play tomorrow’s match,” said Babar.
Left-handed Imam is likely to be replaced by veteran batter Azhar Ali, for whom the Karachi Test will be his final appearance in international cricket.
With an unassailable 2-0 lead, England will take the liberty to test promising leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed as they eye a whitewash over Pakistan.
Rehan fits England’s style of play, being a decent batter as well and Stokes said he would consider making him the country’s youngest cricketer to play a Test match come Saturday.
“We picked Rehan in the squad not just because of his talent and to integrate him, but because it would be a good opportunity to play him if we thought it was necessary,” said the England captain.
“I’m struggling to work out what he is, whether he’s a batter or a leg-spinner, which is good I guess, because it shows how much talent he’s got.
“Having a wrist-spinner is always exciting, especially for England, but it’s not getting too carried away with the potential he has. Because he is only young, and you’ve still got to nurture talent, no matter how exciting it is.”
Rehan will replace spinner Will Jacks while wicket-keeper Ben Foakes comes in for veteran fast bowler James Anderson, who is being rested.
The teenager’s inclusion will bolster England’s spin bowling arsenal, which is being lead by left-armer Jack Leach and the dry Karachi wicket will help the duo.
“We’ve taken a look at the wicket as well, which looks very dry, I personally think it might spin a bit more than it did in the last Test match,” Stokes said, adding that England will press on to ensure they sweep the series 3-0.
“…the series here is done and we’ll still lift the trophy at the end regardless of the result, there’s still an extra bit knowing that we could be one of the very few teams that could walk away from Pakistan with a whitewash series,” said the all-rounder.
Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2022