Azhar hints at playing same XI that won Pindi Test against B'desh
Pakistan captain Azhar Ali said his men are completely ready to take on England in three-match Test series that starts Wednesday.
Pakistan also announced a trimmed squad of 16 players for the first Test. Other than captain Azhar, other members of the team are Abid Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Shan Masood, Babar Azam, Fawad Alam, Asad Shafiq, M Rizwan, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shadab Khan, Yasir Shah, Kashif Bhatti, Nasim Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, M Abbas and Sohail Khan.
Talking to media in an online press conference, Azhar said he has a very balanced side at his disposal for the series. “Our bowlers are inexperienced, yet how they played in the previous series make me very happy and satisfied. We have more experience in our batting line-up and I think we have a balanced combination.”
However, he agreed that Pakistan were still missing a bowling all-rounder in the Tests nut hoped that Fahim Ashraf with his hard work will soon fill that gap too.
He said Pakistan would need to be on the top of the game in all three departments to earn a victory.
“If we put good enough runs on the board we have a bowling attack that can win us the match. Yasir Shah’s role will be the key and spin will play a big role in the series. We are focussed on the first Test to set a solid base for upcoming matches.”
Azhar said Abid and Shan were performing well and they will enter in the first squad with the both.
It means that opener Imam-ul-Haq will not be part of the team. However, Azhar heaped praise on the youngster and said his performance and approach was very good during the practice but said they can go with only two openers.
Azhar said Sohail Khan also made a huge impact with his comeback during the practice session and it is always a tough decision to leave out an in form players but the management and captain have to take strategic decisions as per decisions.
Azhar said the decision to play two spinners will be taken into account only after assessing the pitch and conditions as England’s weather is quite unpredictable and they have to take into account all the facts.
However, he hinted that they may continue with the same unit that won Pakistan's last Test in Rawalpindi. Only missing from that squad is Haris Sohail who had opted out of the tour. So anyone from Fawad Alam and Shadab Khan could fill that spot. It also means Sarfaraz Ahmed will sit in the dressing room while Rizwan would take the gloves.
“My performance has not been consistent and I am not happy as a player. I am working hard to bring back that consistency. All players are important, but as senior players, I consider my and Asad Shafiq’s performance would be very important for the team.”
Pakistan are unbeaten against England in the last four Test series (2010 onwards). They beat England in home series in 2012 (3-0) and 2015 (2-0) before levelling the 2016 (2-2) and 2018 (1-1) away series.
And Azhar said though every series is a new challenge but their aim is to carry on that unbeaten run like their predecessors. “This is our motivation and we would try to repeat the performance.”
He said England tour is always tough with or without COVID.
Pakistan captain said the players were excited to play the game again despite COVID-19 issue.
“COVID-19 will stay with us for long and we would have to deal with it. We wanted to play cricket and we get a chance in these tough times. Whatever facility we get we prepared best and enjoyed each other’s company.”
Azhar made his Test debut in 2010 Test series in England and that has lasted a long impression on his career.
“I had learnt how to challenge myself during my first-ever Test series in England. That series gave me belief and lesson as I had played on the toughest pitches so I was ready to bat nay where. That tour becomes a guideline for me and seniors also supported me well. It really helped to shape my career.”
He said the team was lucky to have a coaching staff, the most of the players have played with and all have the same mindset and thinking style that makes the things easy.
“We are lucky to have a coaching staff that had already spent a lot of time with us out and I am very comfortable to get the right support and guidance. They don’t want to impose their things and that is a very good thing and as a captain, I am very comfortable. Since we played together, we think alike and there is no issue of different mindset or approach when it comes to devising strategy.”