Pakistan scraped past Ireland by 5 wickets  © AFP
Pakistan scraped past Ireland by 5 wickets in one-off Test © AFP

Pakistan managed to scrape past Ireland in their first Test of their summer. If not for the overtly criticised Imam-ul-Haq, Sarfraz Ahmed-led side would have faced major embarrassment ahead of England tour. As expected, overcast conditions played a major role at Malahide. While the Pakistan bowlers thrived under the conditions, the Irishmen did a brilliant job, not making Pakistan’s job easy at all.

The warm up games against Kent, Northamptonshire and Leicestershire opened up a can of worries for Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur. Under Arthur, Pakistan has lost 11 out of 16 Tests, a performance that has obviously drawn backlash in Pakistan. The 2-Test series England could very-well decide the future of Arthur, Grant Flower and Azhar Mahmood. Let us dwell into the hurdles Pakistan will face against a strong Joe Root-marshalled side.

Reliance on young guns: Imam might have brushed aside much of the criticism coming his way by scoring his third fifty on tour. His temperament under tough times was commendable, but he seemed jittery at times. He will need to be more precise and confident with his footwork to counter James Anderson or Stuart Broad. Azhar Ali’s form has been patchy since his triple hundred. The most senior batsman of the side needs to rise to the standards that helped him essay that technically unflawed hundred at Edgbaston in 2016.

The batting line-up can be summed up as, well, almost wafer-thin. Sami Aslam, Usman Salahuddin and Saad Ali will be exposed to alien conditions, given they have played on placid wickets and dry conditions in Pakistan. Salahuddin did show glimpses of his skills against Leicestershire, but the batting needs to improve substantially as a unit. A lot will depend on Sarfraz Ahmed, a man dynamic enough to change the fortune of a match in a short span of time.

Absence of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan: Misbah and Younis played key roles in Pakistan levelling the 2016 series in England. While Misbah scored a magnificent hundred on his maiden appearance at Lord’s, Younis’ authoritative double-hundred decided the Test at The Oval.

Come 2018, and Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq and Harris Sohail form an underperforming middle-order. Lack of runs coupled with poor form have made it difficult for Pakistan to stand their ground. Both Azam and Shafiq have shared dressing-rooms with Misbah and Younis in 2016. They will definitely want to emulate the giants.

Fawad Alam’s exclusion continues to haunt PCB. Despite being Pakistan’s leading domestic run-scorer, Fawad finds himself sitting at home. He last played a Test for Pakistan in 2009 despite having evolved with time and changing his batting stance to adjust to international needs. His domestic experience would have come in handy in an inexperienced side.

Spin predicament: Yasir Shah had bamboozled the Englishmen at both Lord’s and The Oval the last time Pakistan were here. Yasir has now been replaced by Shadab Khan. A product of T20 cricket, Shadab is yet to prove his credentials in the red-ball arena. With conditions not expected to favour spin, Shadab may be blunted. It should be also noted that Shadab is the lone spinner in the side.

Lack of tearaway bowlers: Pakistan have left out Wahab Riaz and Sohail Khan in favour of Mohammad Abbas and Hasan Ali. Hasan, one of the finest white-ball bowlers in contemporary cricket, was included probably to get acclimatised to England conditions ahead of the 2019 World Cup. Abbas has been an excellent find.

Mohammad Aamer’s fragile knees continue to sweat Pakistan. His form with ball is least comforting for the team management, who have nevertheless shown their undying support to him. An aggravation to his injury may spell doomsday, with no backup available for Pakistan. Rahat Ali completes a three-man pace attack, one that was unable to skittle out a second-string Leicestershire side.

Not the first time are Pakistan touring overseas with questions raised on their side. However, they do have a habit of proving the doubters wrong (the Champions Trophy final has not even turned a year!), which makes them one of the most-loved sides in world cricket.

One may not give Pakistan a definite chance against a formidable yet bruised-and-battered England side after the 2017-18 Ashes, but be sure to see the cornered tigers roar when the action starts at Lord’s.