Pakistan captain Azhar Ali believes he can put a low run of scores behind him as his side head into Friday’s third Test at Southampton facing a first series defeat against England in 10 years.
The tourists are 1-0 down in a three-match campaign after a three-wicket defeat in the first Test at Old Trafford, a match where Pakistan were on top until the closing stages, was followed by a draw in a second Test at Southampton where neither side had a chance of victory in a match blighted by bad weather.
Azhar has managed scores of 0, 18 and 20 in the series so far, a poor return for a specialist batsman. But he believes he is not far off from a significant innings.
“I was feeling really confident about myself in the two hours or so I spent at the crease in my previous innings (20) and my balance was good as well,” he said. “It is my responsibility to make sure that I score runs.”
There have been concerns that, as happened to the West Indies’ fast bowlers during their 2-1 defeat by England in a preceding behind closed door series that marked international cricket’s return from lockdown, Pakistan’s quicks would be worn out by three back-to-back Tests.
‘Exciting fast bowlers’
But the lack of action in the second match – Pakistan had bowled just 43.1 overs in England’s first innings when a draw was agreed – should mean a first-choice pace attack of Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Abbas and Naseem Shah are all fit and firing for Friday’s finale.
“We are lucky enough to have these exciting fast bowlers, although they are young. Naseem is nearly 18 and Shaheen is just 20,” said Azhar.
“They are bowling really well, putting the opposition under pressure and we are backing them because you can’t just sit outside and gain experience, you have to play.”
Meanwhile England face another selection dilemma.
There will be a strong temptation to stick with the tried and tested pace trio of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes, so effective in English conditions.
But with English cricket also having an eye on the 2021/22 Ashes tour of Australia, team management would like express fast bowlers Jofra Archer and Mark Wood to have more Test-match game time before they head ‘Down Under’.
“It’s a difficult balance to get,” admitted England coach Chris Silverwood.
England also have the option to drop spinner Dom Bess and play an extra seamer with all-rounder Ben Stokes sitting out the last two matches of the series to be with his ill father in New Zealand.
Joe Root, the England captain, said whoever was selected, would do their utmost to ensure his side finished their Test-match season on a high.
“Credit to both touring teams for coming over and giving us that opportunity to play, and to both boards, it’s been amazing to be a part of this experience,” he said.
“I fully expect everyone to give everything over the next five days and make sure we give ourselves the best chance of finishing the series 2-0.”
The frustrating bad light delays in the second Test, even when the floodlights were on full beam, have led to a change in playing conditions that will allow match referee Chris Broad to bring the start of time forward by half-an-hour to 10:30 am (0930 GMT) should any play be lost during the game.
Root, with both teams based in onsite hotels and no spectators to worry about in a series being played behind closed doors because of the coronavirus, welcomed the alteration by saying: “It seems a sensible way of doing it.
“For the environment we find ourselves in and the times that we’re in as well, it seems a really good way of maximising the hours of play.
“I think this will enable us to play a little bit more cricket.”
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