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World Test Championship

Five Pakistan players to keep an eye on

ENG v PAK Tests, feature

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Pakistan start their three-match Test series against England on Wednesday with the first match to be played in Manchester.

After two intense intra-squad warm-up games, Pakistan appear ready to take the bull by the horns as they face England, who are basking in a 2-1 Test series win over West Indies. The touring side has some strong, in-form players in their squad. Here we take a look at five key players from the visiting side to watch out for this series.

Babar Azam

"Gradually, as you score big, play longer innings, talk to senior players, you get an idea how to perform in Test cricket," Babar told The National earlier this year.

Given his current form, to say Babar has 'an idea how to perform in Test cricket' is an understatement. Till his first hundred in Tests in November 2018, Babar Azam had averaged 30.44 in 16 Tests. Since then, Babar Azam averages 73.42 with five Test hundreds. In fact, in his last seven Test innings, Babar has gone past 60 all but once, making four hundreds in these games.

Wahab Riaz

"The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) communicated with me to play Test cricket (in England), if required, and to play for Pakistan is always a priority so I said yes without even thinking,” Wahab Riaz commented in a video conference before the series.

Wahab Riaz had taken an "indefinite break" from Test cricket in 2019 but has made a return to the squad for the upcoming Tests against England despite not possessing a central contract. As a senior bowler at 34, Riaz could become a key member in the attack, especially because his left-arm angle provides a point of difference. His ability to extract unsettling bounce may also tempt Pakistan's selectors to pick him even though he has played only four Tests since the start of 2017.

Mohammad Rizwan

"You can play Rizwan as a specialist batsman," Shane Warne commented after watching Mohammad Rizwan in Australia in the Test series.

The 28-year-old wicket-keeper batsman stood up to the Australian pace attack Down Under, scoring a counter-attacking 37 in the first innings and following it up with a career-best 95 in the second innings at Brisbane. Warne's comments certainly appear well-placed after Rizwan started his England tour with a bang, scoring 54* and 100* for Pakistan White in the first intra-squad warm-up match. His form could be crucial for Pakistan, especially if they are looking to play a fifth bowling option.

Naseem Shah

"He [Naseem] had impressed straightaway not only with his pace but with his skills, temperament and his knowledge of his own bowling as well; he reads batsmen very quickly. Not many players can reach that standard that early," Azhar Ali said of Naseem Shah last year.

A teenage prodigy, Naseem Shah caught the eye of the cricketing world in Australia with some rapid spells. In his last Test match in Rawalpindi against Bangladesh, Naseem was the Player of the Match for his second-innings returns of 4/26, that included a hat-trick. He has started his England tour on a positive note, grabbing a five-wicket haul in his first innings here for Pakistan Green in the intra-squad warm-up game. Naseem is an unknown factor for the England batsmen and could pose a tough challenge to them with his skiddy pace.

Shadab Khan

"We will keep an eye on the pitch and the weather conditions, today and tomorrow, before taking a decision on whether to play two spinners or not," Misbah-ul-Haq said ahead of the first Test against England in a video conference.

Shadab Khan, who last played a Test match in January 2019, is in line for a return to the starting XI if Pakistan decide to go into the first Test match with two spinners. The leg-spinner, who doubles up as a pretty decent batting option – he averages 34.28 in Tests – could add depth to the bowling attack without compromising too much on the batting front. Shadab had made half-centuries in three successive Tests (one against Ireland) on Pakistan's last tour of England and Ireland in 2018. If he plays, Shadab's performances with the ball will be keenly watched. In five Tests, he has 12 wickets at 38.33 and will be eager to improve on those numbers.

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