Rising Pakistan aim series whitewash
LEEDS: Pakistan had come to the United Kingdom to learn and progress as a new Test combination and had aimed to learn even if they lose against a formidable and experienced England team.
On Friday they will start as favorites to clean sweep England in a short two-match series and jump from seventh in the Test ranking to fifth following their surprising yet emphatic nine-wicket win at Lord’s.
So confident is Pakistan that they didn’t keep their final eleven until Friday morning but instead announced long-time tourist Usman Salahuddin will replace Babar Azam who, unfortunately, broke his wrist during his lead-giving 68 not out at Lord’s.
Pakistan have not beaten England at Leeds since Imran Khan’s side won here in 1987 but their last Test – a neutral venue Test – saw them beat a mature Australia on the back of seven key wickets by Mohammad Amir.
Amir looked in good touch in the second innings at Lord’s where he finished with 4-36 and together with Mohammad Abbas – who took eight wickets in the match – bamboozled England to a position where their most senior player Alastair Cook admitting that “a lot of careers will be on the line at Leeds.”
That sums up the mood in both the camps. Skipper Sarfraz Ahmed vowed his team will do their best to win an important Test.
“This is another very important Test for us,” said Sarfraz on Thursday. “We will try our level best to win the match and the series against a very good England team. We are in a process of learning so if we win here then it will be remembered for a long time.”
Sarfraz backed Usman for the Test, saying he has been touring with the team for some time now.
“We will play Usman,” said Sarfraz of the 27-year-old who made 69 not out in the side game against Leicestershire ahead of the Lord’s Test. “He is playing well and we found him better so that’s why we are going with him.”
Usman played two one-day internationals but managed single figures cores after he was sent at number seven and five on team’s West Indies tour in 2011 and was part of the squad of last year’s West Indies tour and Pakistan’s series against Sri Lanka in UAE.
Sarfraz admitted big individual scores will be needed from batsmen.
“You seek improvement all the time so we need to improve on individual scores, make the 80s and 100s which we didn’t do at Lord’s,” said Sarfraz whose team scored 363 with Babar (68 not out), Asad Shafiq (59), Shadab Khan (52) and Azhar Ali 950) all settled but did not reached-figures mark.
England will also hope their two senior batsmen Cook and skipper Joe Root improve on their 184 and 242 at Lord’s. Cook will set a new world record for most consecutive Test, leaving behind the great Australia Alan Border who played 153 matches on the trot. But it could be his last as well if he doesn’t score big.
England is also sweating on the fitness of all-rounder Ben Stokes who suffered a hamstring injury and will be assessed. The 19-year-old left-arm pacer Sam Curran is named his cover up while Jonny Bairstow has recovered from a blow to the knee.
Root admitted Stokes’s injury was a worry that delayed the announcement of the team.
“Until we know how serious it is it’s hard to make decisions and because of that we can’t name a team today,” said Root.
“Of course if Ben’s fit, we want him in the side, he’s one of our best players. He brings a lot to the table and offers so much to this team.”
Root said England needed improvements.
“It was very clear where we needed to improve from last week. We’ve had some good preparation, the guys have really worked hard and now it’s just doing it, going out and proving a point, putting a really strong performance in as a group and showing some pride in the badge.
“When you are winning and performing well you have to keep churning out those performances and when you’re on the other side of it you’ve got to make sure you turn it around”.