Two years ago when Pakistan arrived at Lord’s for their first Test, they did so with considerable confidence. It was a settled and experienced side, had spent a month warming up in England and a month before that in an intense boot camp.
The current side is not lacking in confidence, and there is promise in the side. But it is nowhere near as grooved. Several things need to happen for them to beat England.
Pakistan’s likeliest XI on Thursday will have four members from the XI that won at Lord’s in 2016. And it is this core quartet that most needs to stand up.
Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq will have to break out of their respective ruts – this tour’s for Azhar, the last year’s and more for Shafiq.
Mohammad Amir looked both fragile and threatening in Malahide where Pakistan would prefer only the latter from Thursday. Mickey Arthur says big occasions bring the best out of Amir and with its combination of emotion and memory, few compare to the bigness of a Lord’s Test for Amir.
Sarfraz Ahmed needs runs. He has seven 50s in his last 32 Test innings, averaging 32.41, and no century in over three years. He needs to be the Sarfraz he was before that, averaging over 45 especially as he’s now batting at six.
Exploit English uncertainty
England’s recent Test form and general air of transition means they can’t be considered overwhelming favourites. And though they haven’t actually lost a home series in four years, they have lost at least one Test in seven of their last eight home series. These are very much two mid-table sides.
No wonder Sarfraz sounded unusually bullish about capitalizing on the uncertainty. “Yes, if you see England’s last four months they are not good for them. They lost the Ashes in Australia and did not have good time in New Zealand so as a team they do not have good time.
“As captain I see England, at the moment, being less confident as a team so as a team we will try to take advantage.”
Here’s a fact to help digest what a boon it is for Pakistan to have not one but two (fledgling) allrounders in their XI. The last time they were able to have such luxury – of playing an attack of four pace bowlers and a spinner – was in Kandy, in 2006.
An easing of the burden is what Pakistan’s pace attack and Yasir Shah have both needed over the last couple of years, so it’s difficult to overstate the longer-term importance of Shadab Khan and Faheem Ashraf.
At Lord’s, they allow Pakistan the flexibility: five specialist batsmen and a five-man attack. Shadab’s leggies (nobody needs reminding about Pakistani leggies and English batsmen) could play a key role. Ashraf could do likewise by giving relief to the likes of Amir and Mohammad Abbas while chipping in with the occasional wicket. Either could come off with a game-breaking innings. Turn one of these ‘coulds’ into reality and we have a game on our hands.
Not matches necessarily but dropping them sure as hell lessens the chances of winning one. Pakistan were poor in Malahide, spilling at least four catches. And they usually start poorly in England.
And they are figuring out a new slip cordon, having lost the safe hands of MisYou. The slip cordon, as it stands, will be Haris Sohail at first, Shafiq at second, Azhar at third and Babar Azam at gully, with Shadab also available to come in if needed.
But Sarfraz must set the tone. The two drops against Ireland have extended an iffy run behind the stumps and as Sarfraz knows first-hand, foreign wicketkeepers generally take time to adjust at Lord’s: he dropped a sitter off Amir here in 2016.
Break this trend
Pakistan haven’t drawn a Test outside Asia since January 2011, at the start of the Misbah era. Not a single Test. They’ve drawn just two outside Asia in the last decade. Ok, so drawing a Test is not beating England but with that record and the general inexperience in the side, it might not be the worst result.