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7th August 2020

Environment England v Pakistan: Azhar Mahmood selects his Pakistan players to watch out for

Environment England v Pakistan: Azhar Mahmood selects his Pakistan players to watch out for


environment Former Pakistan all-rounder Azhar Mahmood

Former Pakistan all-rounder Azhar Mahmood will be part of the BBC Test Match Special commentary team for the Test series in England.

Playing against England was always a special feeling, full of great memories. In fact, my last Test for Pakistan was a series-levelling win against England at Old Trafford in 2001.

People often reminisce about the Pakistan greats, the likes of Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq.

Well, this series is an opportunity for young Pakistan players like Babar Azam, Naseem Shah and Shaheen Afridi to make a name for themselves on the international stage.

Make no mistake, Pakistan are here to win.

All of the hype is about the fast bowlers in the squad but Pakistan’s batting is the more experienced.

Babar is a phenomenal batsman. He has always done well in limited-overs cricket but over the past 18 months he’s gone to another level in Tests and now averages more than 45.

His work ethic is brilliant; the only thing he wants to do is bat, bat and bat. People compare him with Virat Kohli because of his drive shot. But he plays the short ball well too.

And he likes to play the ball late in order to rotate the strike. If you look at the quality players around the world like Kohli, Kane Williamson or Steve Smith, that’s how they play.

Babar’s stint at county cricket with Somerset last year, being in a different environment and sharing the dressing room with different people, has also helped him grow.

With both him and Imam-ul-Haq, we have to ask them to leave the nets to let the other guys have a go. They just love playing cricket.

Talking of Imam, people always compare him with his uncle, the great Inzamam-ul-Haq. But Imam is doing so well in his own right.

Unfortunately he hasn’t made his mark in Test cricket yet but he is a great prospect. I don’t think he’ll play in the first Test, but he’s a player to watch should he be given a chance.

Another player to look out for is the wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan. He scored a century in the intra-squad warm up games and I think will play in the first Test. He could score a lot of runs.

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Watch: Sixteen-year-old becomes youngest bowler to take Test hat-trick

As for the bowlers, Pakistan are missing the retired Mohammad Amir, a fantastic player who England cricket fans know well. He is in the squad for the T20s but has stopped playing Test cricket because he doesn’t want to put the toll on his body, which is fair enough.

But Pakistan have good enough resource in Naseem Shah and Shaheen Afridi.

At just 17 years old, Naseem is a very exciting fast bowler who everybody, rightly so, is talking about. He can bowl at speeds in excess of 90mph, has a quick bouncer and can swing the ball both ways. He’s already got a Test hat-trick to his name.

It’s crucial he is managed well. At such an early age, you don’t know much about your bowling action and workload. Pakistan will be wise to rotate him, especially in back-to-back Tests.

I have worked with Shaheen and can tell you he is one of the leaders in the team. He wants to learn every time he goes into the nets, asks questions and constantly wants to improve his game.

The inexperience of these two bowlers in international cricket could be an advantage, they will be fearless going into these big matches.

Yes, Naseem and Shaheen will make mistakes, as young players do, but they are very talented.

The one thing about this Pakistan team is that they’re a strong unit off the field. They have no grudges between them. They are good friends, which is so important for any side to be successful.

The also have a coaching team led by ex-internationals. Misbah-ul-Haq is the head coach and chief selector. They have Younis Khan as the batting coach, Waqar Younis looking after the bowlers and Mushtaq Ahmed helping the spinners.

In the past we’ve normally had English speaking coaches, and for the youngsters it is sometimes difficult to understand them. When I was helping out the team, I ended up having to translate a lot of the time.

Whenever we come to England we get massive support from the crowd. Unfortunately we won’t get that because of the Covid-19 situation – we will miss the crowd. But the minute the first ball is delivered, the team will be fine.

Pakistan are really motivated for this series and I predict they will win 2-1.

Azhar Mahmood was speaking to BBC Sport’s Kal Sajad


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