Misbah has no qualms over Pakistan's fitness for England finale

By: AFP      Published: 02:53 PM, 19 Aug, 2020
Misbah has no qualms over Pakistan's fitness for England finale
Misbah has no qualms over Pakistan's fitness for England finale

Pakistan coach Misbah-ul-Haq is confident his side's fitness levels will hold up when they face England in the third and final Test at Southampton starting on Friday.

A season reshaped by the coronavirus pandemic has left Pakistan with a programme of three Tests in as many weeks.

What could have been a truly gruelling schedule became less arduous as a result of so much time being lost to rain and bad light during he drawn second Test, also at Southampton, concluded Monday.

But Misbah, who as a 42-year-old captain of Pakistan celebrated scoring a hundred against England at Lord's in 2016 with a round of press-ups, has long been convinced of the need for his players to be in shape.

"Fitness has been an important part of our strategy as a team since I took on the role of head coach last September and we have seen the benefits in the two Tests so far," Misbah wrote in a column for the Pakistan Cricket Board's website.

- 'Perform under pressure' -

"The players have taken ownership of their fitness levels and they should be given credit for that, especially after three months at home during the COVID-19 pandemic," he added. 

"They know having supreme fitness will help them to perform under pressure."

Pakistan go into the series finale 1-0 down after a three-wicket defeat in the first Test at Old Trafford.

But that loss saw Shan Masood show plenty of endurance during a Test-best 156 while wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan, impressive behind the stumps in Manchester, was named man-of-the-match in the second Test for a determined 72.

"Mohammad Rizwan is a great example of that (fitness) in the way he ran between the wickets and batted with the tail," explained Misbah.

"Shan Masood also showed it in the first Test, batting for almost eight hours, and running really well with Shadab Khan. The way they stole quick singles is something that you don’t see much in Test cricket and certainly not from a Pakistan team."

The second day of the second Test was also Pakistan's Independence Day, which has previously coincided with some notable moments in the country's cricket history.

"It is always a special moment to celebrate Independence Day during a Test match and Pakistan has some great memories from previous such occasions in England: our first-ever Test win in England in 1954 came just after Independence Day, as did the famous win at Lord's in 1982 and, from a personal point of view, our victory at the Oval in 2016 when we levelled the series on 14 August itself," recalled Misbah.

Unfortunately for Pakistan, the weather in Southampton meant the current side could not add to those successes, although Misbah said: "Hopefully we can deliver a late gift to the nation in the final Test and announce another Independence Day! Or, as coach, I can just announce that this is the month of Independence."

England's Rashid still a Test chance

England believe Adil Rashid still has "aspirations" to be a Test-match bowler, national selector Ed Smith said.

The 32-year-old leg-spinner last played the most recent of his 19 Tests in January of last year and he has not featured for Yorkshire in the first-class County Championship during the past two seasons.

Earlier this year he signed a white-ball only contract with Yorkshire and so is not featuring in the Bob Willis Trophy, the replacement competition for the Championship in a season disrupted by COVID-19.

Rashid, however, was a key member of England's World Cup-winning side last year and is their top-ranked Twenty20 bowler.

Although his 60 Test wickets have come at an expensive average of nearly 40 apiece, Smith would like to see him prove his fitness following a shoulder injury and make a challenge for a place in England's red-ball set-up, with none of his current spin rivals having nailed down a position in Joe Root's team.

"Adil's still coming back from a reasonably serious injury," Smith told reporters on Tuesday after Rashid was included in England's Twenty20 squad for an upcoming three-match series against Pakistan at Old Trafford.

"He's still working on that physical side, but in the long term I think Adil still has aspirations to play for England in all forms." 

Former England batsman Smith added: "His form is really good in white-ball cricket. We've all seen the skill and the mastery that he's displaying at the moment in that form and we'll work closely with Adil and with Yorkshire in the future to see if he's ready to play four-day and five-day cricket.

"There is a jump required. There's a difference between bowling 10 overs and bowling 100 overs or whatever a very heavy workload would be in a two or three-game spell in four-day cricket.

"But the main thing with Adil is he's made really good strides and he's developed really well in recovery from that injury."

- Vince omission -

Meanwhile James Vince's England career looks to be in the balance after he was omitted from the Twenty20 squad.

The Hampshire batsman has appeared more than 10 times each in the three international formats -- Tests, one-day internationals and Twenty20s -- but has a modest average of under 30 in all of them.

Vince failed to impress during England's recent one-day series win over Ireland and Smith said: "I think James is a very talented player and at his best we all know has the skill to look absolutely at home in international cricket.

"But I'm not saying anything different here than I said to James on the phone: it's just a question of him grabbing his opportunities. He's not been selected for this series against Pakistan. That was as far as the conversation went.

"One thing he'd be the first to say, and I think he has said it publicly, that for someone of his talent and his class he probably hasn't grabbed his opportunities in the way he would have liked to have done."