For the fourth time in a decade, Pakistan will square off in England against the hosts in what is expected to be a high-profile Test series. Pakistan’s road to the English shores was not as smooth as the West Indies’ since a handful of their players battled COVID-19 before that. Fortunately, the athletes managed to recover from it and made their way to England.
The tourists will take the field in Manchester on Thursday in the first of the three Tests as a better performing side amongst the Asian heavyweights in England in recent past. But it is also worth remembering that Pakistan last emerged victorious in England in a series under Wasim Akram back in 1996 while India and Sri Lanka won more recently. Under Salman Butt, they suffered an embarrassing series loss a decade ago while the spot-fixing scandal involving the captain himself compounded their troubles.
Pakistan brought two new captains on their visits in 2016 and 2018. Headlined by skipper Misbah-Ul-Haq’s and Younis Khan’s batting heroics, the tourists managed to draw level in a four-match rubber. Sarfaraz Ahmed’s men rued a golden opportunity in 2018 since as comprehensively they beat the hosts at the Lord’s, Jos Buttler and Stuart Broad played an instrumental role in inflicting an innings loss on Pakistan in Leeds.
When speaking of India, MS Dhoni captained the Indian team in 2011 and 2014. While India beat England in 2007 under Rahul Dravid, MS Dhoni could guide them to only one Test victory across 2011 and 2014 in nine Tests and losing seven. Virat Kohli’s leadership in 2018 saw themselves liberate from the position of power multiple times, guiding them to only one win out of five.
In the last decade, Sri Lanka lost 1-0 (3) in 2011 while suffering a sweep of 2-0 in 2016. Nevertheless, in 2014, Angelo Mathews’ men scripted their first series victory in England. It was also the last time the Englishmen suffered a series loss in their backyard.
Can Pakistan finally get the monkey off their back?
Pakistan might have an encouraging recent record in England, but the hosts have transformed as a formidable side too. Unlike their unreliable top-order consisting in 2016 and 2018, Rory Burns and Dom Sibley are making excellent progress. While Joe Root’s inconsistency is a concern, but the likes of Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope have reigned supreme at the top level and are entirely capable to outclass any Pakistan bowler.
The overhead conditions hardly matter for their bowlers as they have an excellent combination of pacers both left and right-arm to mould even a sniff to something substantial. In Dom Bess, England has an off-spinner, who can exploit the driest of pitches, which might well remain as such. On the other hand, a trump card in Stokes is a bonus, who bowls tirelessly to help his bowlers churn a breakthrough out of nowhere.
For the reasonable optimism surrounding this Pakistan team, one cannot discount their overseas struggles and considering their record in venues where the three Tests will take place. They will play one in Manchester where they have won only once on six occasions so far. On the other hand, the Pakistan team is yet to stage themselves in Southampton in whites where they will feature twice. Younis and Misbah, who were the bedrock of Pakistan’s drawn Test series four years ago, will not be present as players. Instead, the iconic pair would work with the squad behind the scenes and so will Waqar Younis and Mushtaq Ahmed, who was instrumental in their series victory in 1992 and 1996.
As part of the squad, Babar Azam will form the fulcrum of the batting line-up and would be eyeing to build on his healthy Test record so far. The number six Test batsman was integral in Pakistan’s win two years ago in Lord’s and perhaps on this occasion, Babar has arrived with a massive reputation and responsibility on his shoulders. It also presents opportunities for former skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed to restart afresh while the likes of Abid Ali, Fawad Alam, and skipper Azhar Ali have to prove their credentials too.
In the bowling front, the visitors have the expertise of Mohammad Abbas, who moves the new ball uncannily both ways. That yielded him ten wickets on his last visit while the likes of Sohail Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, and Naseem Shah have remained amongst the wickets in the intra-squad warm-up games. They will arguably pose more questions than the West Indian pacers could while a specialist leg-spinner in Yasir Shah is an excellent prospect too.
Pakistan’s outfit has the talent in their repertoire. It might be a lot underwhelming than the ones that have previously travelled to England; however, as Michael Vaughan has already pointed out, the hosts can only take Azhar Ali’s men lightly in their peril. Joe Root’s men might be the ones in pressure to defend their fortress, but the tourists have a responsibility to steer their decade-old progress to the next level. It is all about thriving by having the temperament.