England v Pakistan Tests
'We can exploit England batting weakness'
In his latest column, Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq opens up on Amir, Arthur and a shot at history
13 July 2016, 05:57 PM AEST
Captain of the Pakistan Test team, Misbah-ul-Haq has represented his country in more than 250 matches across all formats since making his international debut in 2001.
I was 36 when Pakistan last toured England, in 2010, and not part of the team.
At this age most players are planning their retirements and the future may appear to be dark. If someone had told me that six years later I would be captaining Pakistan for their next tour of England, and doing so as the country's most successful Test captain, I would have found it totally unbelievable.
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That illustrates what a remarkable six-year journey it has been for us. Since the unwanted incidents of the 2010 series against England the team has not just established itself but has also won many memorable series that have taken us into the upper tier of the ICC rankings.
Since the moment we arrived in England the local media's focus has been on that 2010 series and we are being continuously reminded of the past. It is nothing new for us. There has been huge pressure and scrutiny on us in every series since 2010 but the way the team has handled it is commendable.
It has made us mentally tough and we are ready to accept the challenge again.
We have told players to focus on the on-field activities and whatever happens off the field, they should not be worried about it.
It goes without saying that Mohammad Amir made an excellent comeback to first-class cricket in England with a three-wicket burst in Taunton. Some people had doubts whether he would be the same bowler in the longer version of the game after a five-year gap but he has proven that he is still a massive threat.
The way he swung the ball and showed control over line and length against Somerset, I am sure the opposition will be watching him closely. It has given us extra confidence, too.
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The build-up to the Lord's Test has been all about Amir. Even the England captain Alastair Cook has talked about the possibility of the crowd giving him a hostile reception and some other former and active cricketers have also shared their views about him.
No doubt there will be some pressure on him but we are certain that he can handle it like he has done in the past. The best part is that he has the support of the Pakistan Cricket Board and the team and even the fans want to see him. I haven't seen anyone here who has been rude or booed at him.
Amir is mentally a very tough man and he obviously knows there could be some untoward shouts from the crowd. But to counter it he just needs to be himself and not worry. The best way a sportsman can silence his critics is by performing. As his captain, I don't think that he will be needing any special handling.
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Talking about bowling, I think it is not just Amir who has made our attack a force to be reckoned with, the others have been equally important and England would do well not to underestimate them. Rahat Ali was really impressive in the warm-up game and so was Yasir Shah, taking four wickets. Imran Khan and Sohail Khan have done well and Wahab Riaz is as lethal as ever.
While most of the talk has been around our bowling I think that the form of our batsmen is a huge plus for us. Even though most of our batsmen don't have much experience of playing in England, and the conditions here are always a challenge for visitors, I think after scoring runs in the warm-up games they will be feeling confident to pile up the runs in the Tests as well.
We have a very settled batting unit and it hasn't changed much in the past few years which has brought stability to the team.
The decision to arrive in England early for a training and conditioning camp in Hampshire has yielded results too. The players have acclimatised to the weather and batsmen and bowlers both have adjusted to the demands of the swing and the seam in these conditions.
That is one reason that our batsmen, especially Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, were very productive in the warm-up games. It never looked like these two hadn't played much in England before.
On the other hand, England's batting is a worrying sign for them. Of their six batsmen, three have been struggling to score runs and they have changed the No.3 position as well. That is their one weakness that we can look to exploit.
James Anderson's absence due to injury will be an advantage for Pakistan as he is the top bowler in these conditions. No doubt England will be disadvantaged without him but this will not make us complacent. England have decent bowlers in their squad and they have the ability to cause trouble.
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The work the Pakistan players have been doing to improve their fitness levels also deserves appreciation. Fitness used to be a big concern for us but in the past couple of years we have put in the hard yards to keep ourselves physically strong. The training camp in Abbottabad was extremely helpful in this regard and this is the fittest team I have seen in my captaincy.
The new coach Mickey Arthur is also focused on fitness and consistency. Pakistan has a bad reputation for lacking consistency in all departments and Mickey is helping us to improve in this area. So far his presence has been extremely beneficial. There was a perception that he is a strict coach and likes to work as a schoolmaster but we have found him different. He has given players liberty where we need it, but he has asked us to bring discipline and consistency to our game and I think these are two important areas that we need to work on if we are to win this series.
The tours to England are always very tough. Pakistan have not won a Test series here in the past 20 years however this team has the potential to turn the tables. We have done well in our own conditions and beaten England twice. Now it is time to prove our worth in foreign conditions too. We are ready for the challenge and looking forward to the contest. It is going to be a very interesting series.