Pakistan head into the first Test England on Thursday having scrapped through the Ireland Test and having given convincing batting performances either side of it in warm-up matches against Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.
While warm-up matches are hardly the gauge to measure oneself with and edging our Ireland isn’t exactly a world-beating result – although of course a swing of a few runs the other way, and the match could’ve made history for more reasons than it just being the first Test for Ireland – there is a sprinkling of optimism for Pakistan going into Lord’s.
What Pakistan don’t exactly have is history – or too much of the present for that matter – on their side.
Pakistan haven’t won a Test series against England since 1996. And considering that Pakistan’s record-breaking ICC Test Mace winning side took a 2-2 draw back home from England in 2016, which was indeed a commendable result, a drawn series for this Pakistan side would be an absolutely astounding achievement.
Barring the infamous English rain interfering – more than it did in Ireland, where it completely washed out the first day – even a drawn series should require Pakistan to win one match. For, either match ending in a draw might be highly unlikely, weather permitting.
So what do Pakistan need to do to get at least one win against England? For starters, they should aim for Lord’s to be the one.
Following the match against Leicestershire Azhar Ali (73) is finally among the runs as well. But so are Fakhar Zaman (71) and Usman Salahuddin (69*) neither of whom played against Ireland.
Would either of them get a look in at Lord’s?
The only way that is happening is if Pakistan go with seven specialist batsmen including Sarfraz Ahmed, instead of the two all-rounders – Shadab Khan and Faheem Ashraf – that they had in Ireland. And if that change happens, it would be Faheem who would make way despite his match-winning batting in the first innings against Ireland, and also because Shadab is the only frontline spinner that Pakistan have.
If Pakistan bring in a specialist batsman for Faheem, it would be evidence that they’re hoping to shore up the batting in a bid to bat out as many overs as possible, which would signify a negative approach.
The flipside here is that Faheem, in the side primarily as a bowler, didn’t exactly set the match alight with his bowling. But three pacers and Shadab would put a lot of burden on the young leg-spinner, who clearly ready yet to take up the sort of workload that Yasir Shah managed day in day out.
Since Test matches are won by taking 20 wickets, it is the bowlers who might have to do even more than they would normally be asked to do, should the batting waver under the onslaught of a dominant English attack in their conditions.
Mohammed Amir, who has all kinds of memories at Lord’s, has the opportunity to reignite his Test career amidst a mixed bag in the longest format since his return to international cricket, and more than just murmurs of him trying to reduce the number of Tests he plays.
Muhammad Abbas appears to be Pakistan’s specialist Test pacer, along with Rahat Ali, although the latter did have a strong PSL 3.
The likeliest match-winner for Pakistan might be Shadab Khan, who can definitely do damage – especially on the last couple of days. But it’s too soon for Pakistan to put that kind of burden on his young shoulders already.
The Lord’s Test is a great opportunity for the likes of Shadab, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam and Haris Sohail to announce their arrival at the biggest stage. For the likes of Azhar, Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed it’s a test of whether or not they have what it takes to form the experienced backbone of a solid Test side.