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Pakistan will be ready for England challenge: Azhar


July 9, 2020

KARACHI: Pakistan will take on England in their Test series opener at Old Trafford on August 5 without having the benefit of playing the usual warm-up matches.

Because of the Covid-19 restrictions, Pakistan will have to make do with a series of intra-squad practice matches in the lead up to the Test series. In contrast, England will be fully prepared for the challenge as they will face Pakistan after having played a three-Test series against visiting West Indies. The series got underway on Wednesday.

But Azhar Ali, Pakistan’s captain, believes that despite the lack of proper warm-up matches, his troops will be ready for England.

Azhar’s men have started their preparations for the Test and T20I series against England with a two-day inter-squad scenario-based practice match played on July 5-6 in Worcester.

The team returned to training on June 30 after a gap of more than three months and Azhar believes the scenario-based match will prove to be beneficial for the players to ready themselves for the all-important three ICC World Test Championship fixtures against England.

“We are playing cricket after a long time and it is not going to be easy to start at full-strength,” Azhar said on Wednesday. “We have to go step-by-step and I am very happy that the boys utilised their practice time of four days well.”

“No matter how much you practice, playing matches is always more beneficial. If you spend half of your practice’s time in scenario-based matches, it gives you a lot more confidence. Playing this scenario-based match was very important for us.”

In what will be their third Test series in England in the last five years, Pakistan will take on the hosts in a three-match series. The first match will be played at Old Trafford, Manchester, followed by the last two Tests at Ageas Bowl, Southampton, which start on August 13 and 21.

Azhar is optimistic that his players will be ready for the challenge when the series arrives.

“Both batsmen and bowlers have adapted to the conditions. The wind was troubling the bowlers initially but they overcame it, which was heartening. Definitely, the players are going to need some time to adjust. Despite the break, they are in good shape which is a positive sign for us.

“All the batsmen batted quite well especially Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq and Abid Ali seemed in total control, Shan Masood adapted well to the conditions and Mohammad Rizwan looked in good shape.

“Mohammad Abbas is our experienced bowler and his presence is of advantage for us as he also keeps guiding the youngsters. He is someone who can be a very important member of the attack for us. Naseem Shah bowled very well in the scenario-based match. He will attain more control as he continues to bowl.”

To prevent the proliferation of Covid-19, the International Cricket Council has introduced changes in its playing conditions which do not permit the bowlers from shining the ball with saliva and handing their sweater, cap or hat to the umpires while bowling.

Azhar said that adjusting to the new regulations was a little difficult, but the practice games will help in the adaptation.

“There are some areas where we have to adapt,” he said. “In this weather, it was only the fast bowlers who sweated so it was a challenge for us to shine the ball. But, that’s something which will change as the weather continues to get warm.

“The most challenging thing, however, was that the bowlers had to put their sweaters and caps outside the boundary rope because of which managing the over rate was getting a bit difficult. Especially, in Yasir Shah’s case he fields in the circle but had to go all the way to the boundary to put his things. But, I am comfortable that we will adapt to these changes as we still have a two-day and two four-day matches to play and they will help us.”

Pakistan are currently under a 14-day quarantine period, following which they will travel to Derbyshire on July 13.