Pakistan bowling coach happy with Imam-ul-Haq’s batting against Kent, hopes the young team settles down in the unfamiliar conditions quickly.
The visiting Pakistanis had a rough time in their first four-day tour game against Kent ahead of the Tests against Ireland and England. First, there was a lot of rain, which washed out two of the four days totally. Then, when play was possible, the Kent players called the shots, bowling Sarfraz Ahmed’s men out for 168 and getting to 209/4 in the time available.
Pakistan have one more tour game, against Northamptonshire, before the historic one-off Test against Ireland in Dublin. Azhar Mahmood, the Pakistan bowling coach, is hoping things get better for the players, who struggled in the biting cold up in Canterbury.
“It’s always difficult. The grounds are soft, the pitches are soft as well. Early season, you know, so it’s difficult for the boys, coming from Pakistan, to adjust to the weather. It was five degrees! Quite cold for them, and it’s not easy,” said Mahmood, who played for Kent between 2008 and 2012 and calls it his ‘third home’ after Pakistan and Surrey.
When Pakistan batted after winning the toss, Will Gidman, the 33-year-old right-arm medium pacer, led the way for Kent with returns of 5/47. Imam-ul-Haq, yet to play any Test cricket, was the only Pakistani batsman to hold his own, batting over two-and-a-half hours to score 61.
“He played very well. He has worked very hard with Grant Flower [the batting coach] when everyone was playing in the PSL [Pakistan Super League] and he wasn’t selected. He worked really hard on his batting and on his fitness, and you can see it’s paid off,” said Mahmood.
“He’s getting into good positions, playing well off the front foot and the back foot. That’s the hard yards he has put in. He looked like he has been here for a long time.”
Along with hoping that the rest of the batsmen settle down quickly, Pakistan will expect their fast bowlers, led by Mohammad Amir, to do the job with the ball in the injury-enforced absence of Yasir Shah.
Amir picked up just the one wicket in the game against Kent, with a searing yorker, but has only 95 wickets from 30 Tests overall, and just 44 from 16 since his comeback to international cricket after serving a ban for spot fixing.
“Amir is one of the best bowlers we have around. Along with Hasan Ali. We want more from Amir. As bowling coach, I want more from Amir,” said Mahmood. “If you see his record, it’s not that great since he has come back. He needs to take more responsibility, run in and get more wickets for the team. If he is the leader of the attack, he has to show us a bit more. He has the potential.”
Without Shah around, Pakistan have picked Shadab Khan, just 19 and a leg-spinner like the veteran.
“He’s young, he has the potential. It’s getting him to bowl more overs in Test cricket and four-day cricket that’s important. I am quite happy with his performance. He bowled a good spell,” said Mahmood of Khan, who hasn’t played Test cricket yet.
Despite much pointing to Pakistan not quite being ready for the test, Mahmood exuded confidence, and that was partly because of the team’s recent record in England. When they travelled there for a four-Test series in 2016, they left with a 2-2 draw. More recently, in 2017, Pakistan scripted a fantastic run to win the ICC Champions Trophy in the same part of the world.
“We are very confident. I know we are coming here as underdogs, England are playing at home. But we’ve got young players who have the potential. They performed during the Champions Trophy, like Hasan Ali, Mohammad Amir and Shadab Khan. Young guys like Fakhar [Zaman] played really well during the Champions Trophy. If we manage to get things right, we can give a tough time to England,” said Mahmood.
“We are working hard, we have a young side, for many of them it’s the first time in England. But after Younis [Khan] and Misbah [ul-Haq] left cricket, it’s an opportunity for these young guys to grab the opportunity to play for Pakistan for the next 10-15 years.”
The game against Northamptonshire will start on Friday 4 May before the Test against Ireland, in Dublin, from 11 May.
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