Azhar Ali says Pakistan have England’s ‘fragile top order’ in their sights

Pakistan Test captain Azhar Ali
Image Source : AP

Pakistan Test captain Azhar Ali

Pakistan will look to target England’s “fragile top-order” when the impending Test series between the two nations kicks in August. 

England have failed to find a stable opening lineup since the departure of Alastair Cook in 2018. While their bowling attack looks equally “brilliant”, as admitted by Pakistan Test captain Azhar Ali, England are still in search of an answer for their opening conundrum. 

Since Cook’s last appearance in September 2018, England have played six different opening pairs in 18 Tests with none of the pairs opening more than nine times. And ahead of the West Indies Test, which will begin from July 8 in Manchester, England seem to only have one trusted option at the top of the batting lineup – Rory Burns. The three others – Dom Sibley, Joe Denly, and Zak Crawley – will look to bag the two other spots. However, England are expected to have a clearer view after the Windies contest.

“Their bowling attack is brilliant in their own conditions and there is no doubt about it,” Azhar said before leaving for England. “Other than Jofra Archer we have faced all of them – Broad, Anderson, Woakes, Stokes and even Wood was there, but we have still won against them. Looking at their batting, their top order has been fragile for some time since Alastair Cook retired. They have tried a lot of combinations lately and might be looking a bit more settled, but they haven’t been really confident with it. So there is something for us in it to look at.”

Pakistan also stands atop all other major Test playing nations in terms if winning record in England since 2016. In their last two visits, Pakistan have won as many as they have lost in two drawn Test series – 2-2 (in 2016) and 1-1 (2018). Within the same period, Australia won twice, and India, South Africa and West Indies won one apiece. 

Pakistan will, however, be a little concerned about their bowling lineup. Youngsters Naseem Shah and Shaheen Shah Afridi will be making their debut Test appearance in England. Out of their two veteran bowlers – Yasir Shah will be heading into the contest following a poor 2019, leaving Mohammad Abbas as the only option Pakistan will be heavily relying on. The latter was part of the 2018 series in England and has county experience with Leicestershire. 

“In terms of number of games, of course England have tons of experience in their bowling,” Azhar said. “But we have the skills: they [our bowlers] are young and have a lot to offer. They can give trouble to any team in the world. In a very short time, they have achieved a lot and that is a good sign.

“You can’t buy experience immediately, and for that you obviously have to play more, but then we have a very experienced coaching staff with Waqar Younis and Mushtaq Ahmed. Their expertise and knowledge can be utilised and they will be helping them. So I believe, when this combo of experience and skill is brought together, that we can produce a great result. I am confident about this.

“About spinners, we are not really sure about the conditions at the time of the Test series. The weather right now is great there but it changes frequently and suddenly. We don’t know how it will pan out this summer. We will bring our game plan according to the conditions. We have a larger pool of player and have a lot of flexible options in our touring party.”

Pakistan, with 20 players and 11 support staff personnel, left for Manchester on Sunday. Out of the remaining 10, six returned negative in their second COVID-19 test and will be having their third next week while the other four have tested positive in their restest and have been kept under observation.

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