Pakistan have come to London on the back of a good win against Ireland at Malahide but their overall performance in the one-off Test was ordinary. Easy catches were dropped, top-order struggled, there was a minor batting collapse in the second innings and the bowlers let Ireland score 339 in the follow-on innings. But a good thing that came out of the match was fast bowlers stepping up and playing a match winning role.
Arguably, it was first time since the Oval Test in 2010 that Pakistan won a Test without a major contribution coming from spinners. Three pacers Mohammad Abbas (9), Mohammad Amir (5) and Faheem Ashraf (1) together took 15 wickets. The fourth pacer (Rahat Ali) however failed to make any impact despite the conditions fully in favour of the pacers and his form is a concern for Pakistan going into the first Test against England at Lord’s.
Rahat was making a comeback to the Test side after one and a half years. He could not play any first-class cricket for 17 months due to an injury following Australia tour in 2017 but, as has been the case with so many selections, he was called back to play Tests on the back of a fine season in the Pakistan Super League where playing for Quetta Gladiators he produced 15 wickets at 21.46. He had accounted for at least one wicket in ten out of eleven matches in the PSL but his bowling against Ireland was a far cry from that as he did not take a single wicket in 30 overs he bowled in Malahide.
Rahat hasn't been a part of first-class cricket due to injury
Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur named twelve players for the Lord’s Test and there is a cloud hanging over Rahat’s place in the final XI.
"We have selected a squad of 12. Hasan Ali is in that 12. We will make a decision tomorrow (Wednesday) whether we go with Rahat or Hasan," Arthur told reporters at Lord’s.
The flip side of the story though is that Hasan is not 100 percent fit and did not bowl in the nets on Tuesday due to a minor split webbing. He also received two stitches as a precautionary measure but is expected to bowl on Wednesday and available for the first Test starting from Thursday. Hasan to date has played in only two Tests – against Windies in Dominica and Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi in 2017. In both the series, he missed matches due to fitness concerns. And the fitness factor once again could go against him if he struggles to bowl on the eve of the Lord’s Test.
The good news for Pakistan though is Amir has been declared fit to take on England. There was an injury scare in Malahide where he struggled to go through his overs due to a knee problem.
"He's perfect and 100 percent. He is fine ready to go,” said Arthur.
Amir had only three wickets in three Tests coming on this tour and his form in the longer version of the game was a concern but five wickets against Ireland despite two dropped catches have put him back on the track.
Amir’s bowling is vital for Pakistan’s plans on this tour and the team is expecting a Trent Boult-like performance from him. England this year lost a Test series to New Zealand for the first time in 19 years and that was largely because of Boult’s 6-32 spell in the first innings at Auckland that bowled out England for 58.
"I think Mohammad Amir is the finest exponent of pace and swing when he gets it 100 percent right. We've used that spell that Trent Boult bowled in Auckland. We've had a look at his lengths and the England batsmen then were on the back of a really tough winter for them.
"We believe he bowls incredibly well at left-handers and there will be three left-handers (Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan) in the England top four.
Arthur believes Amir will play a crucial role against England's top order
"I just hope it goes really well for him because he's been unlucky at times with the amount of dropped catches. He's ready, he's determined, he's fit, he's strong, he's excited, he's in a very good place at the moment so I just hope it goes really well for him.”
Pakistan have been heavily reliant on their spinners lately. Even in the matches they have won outside the subcontinent, spinners have played a major role. Yasir Shah took a five-wicket haul in the two wins at Lord’s and the Oval in 2016.
But after a long time, Pakistan is banking on their pacers to win them matches. Even in the home series against Sri Lanka last year, Pakistan went in with three pacers and a spinner which was an unusual combination for them in the UAE.
The Ireland Test was first time in twelve years that Pakistan played with four pacers and a spinner. Faheem Ashraf’s emergence as a Test all-rounder has given them a luxury to play with a 4-1 attack, a combination they had not tried since Kandy 2006 when they played with Mohammad Asif, Umar Gul, Rao Iftikhar, Abdul Razzaq and Danish Kaneria.
The current pace crop certainly has the potential to play the match-winning role and the conditions in England will provide them a perfect opportunity to prove their worth.