Sarfraz Ahmed wants Pakistan's senior service to lead at Lord's

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Sarfraz Ahmed (r) keeping wicket for Pakistan

Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed wants the side’s quartet of senior players to help take the pressure off the rest of the team in the first Test against England at Lord’s.

For at least seven members of the tourists’ side, Thursday’s opening fixture of a two-Test series will be the first time they have played a a match at the ‘home of cricket’.

By contrast, Mohammad Amir – whose career came to a shuddering halt after his involvement in a spot-fixing scandal, wicket-keeper Sarfraz and batsmen Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq have all played at the London headquarters of Marylebone Cricket Club.

“Yes, the senior players in the team have to show responsibility,” Sarfraz told reporters at Lord’s on Wednesday.

‘Lead from the front’

“We have to lead from the front, we have more responsibility to give a good platform so that the new players take it from there,” he added.

Pakistan come into this game on the back of a five-wicket win over Test debutants in Ireland, where the conditions were similar to those they could face at Lord’s if confronted with a typical early-season English pitch offering seam movement and some overcast skies.

Mohammad Amir returns to Lord's

Mohammad Amir returns to Lord’s

“As a team we have more confidence because that was our first big match,” said Sarfraz.

“The way new players put up a good performance that helped us gain confidence.”

One of those new players was Test debutant Imam-ul-Haq.

Some pundits attacked the 22-year-old left-hander’s inclusion in the tour squad on nepotism grounds given Imam is the nephew of Pakistan selection chief and former Test batsman Inzamam-ul-Haq.

But Imam has answered his critics with three fifties to date this tour, including a match-clinching 74 not out on the last day against Ireland that rescued Pakistan from the depths of 14 for three.

“I am very pleased the way he is playing, especially in the second innings (in Dublin),” said Sarfraz.

“It’s not easy for a youngster playing his first Test, it was a crucial knock of 74 runs and as a captain I am very confident he will continue performing well like that.”

Sarfraz said it was important Pakistan treated the match like any other and did not play the likes of England stalwarts Alastair Cook, Stuart Broad and James Anderson on their reputations.

“They (England) have experienced players but I have told my players not to get worried about that,” he explained. “Take it as a domestic match, the way you have got into the team after performing well in domestic matches, play without fear and play your best game.

“The worse will be that we lose this match, but this is a young team, seven of our players will be playing at Lord’s for the first time, so that in itself an honour.

“If these youngsters do well here and gain confidence then it will be good for their future and for the Pakistan team.”

Sarfraz, a key member of the Pakistan side that drew 2-2 in a four-Test series in England two years ago, accepted the hosts would be tough to beat on their own soil.

But he also said there was an opportunity for Pakistan given England failed to win any of their seven most recent Tests, in Australia and New Zealand.

“If you see England’s last four months they are not good for them,” said sarfraz.

“They lost the Ashes in Australia and did not have a good time in New Zealand. I think as captain I see England, at the moment, being less confident as a team so as a team we will try to take advantage and try to perform well.”

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Three reasons why Pakistan can win Test series in England

Waseem Ahmed 23/05/2018
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Sarfraz Ahmed (r) is leading an inexperienced Pakistan line-up in England.

Pakistan enter the two-Test series against England with the knowledge that they are not being seen as the favourites to win the series. An inexperienced side led by Sarfraz Ahmed have a mountain to climb as they take on Joe Root’s England in the first Test which begins on Thursday.

Pakistan came to close to defeat in the one-off Test against Ireland in Dublin, leading to talk of imminent defeat in the two Tests against England.

And while many believe England will prevail in the series, here are three reasons why Pakistan can taste success.

NO PRESSURE OF EXPECTATION

This is where Pakistan are at their most dangerous. Whenever critics or opposition write them off, Pakistan invariably put in their best effort.

They have never been short on talent, in any format. This time as well, they have some gifted players – batsmen and bowlers – even though experience and combination might be an issue. However, since England themselves aren’t a world-beating Test team at the moment, Pakistan could spring a surprise if a session or two go their way.

UNCERTAINTY AND RUST IN ENGLAND CAMP

England’s last Test campaign was a 1-0 loss to New Zealand that came on the back of a 4-0 loss in the Ashes early in the year. The tour Down Under proved to be a harrowing experience of the England Test team and dangerous team like Pakistan in a short two-match series can be very tricky.

Short Test series can go either way very quickly. One bad session and teams generally find it difficult to make a comeback. And also, England haven’t played any international cricket since February, which means their players have been tested at the highest level for a long time. Even star names like Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler have just returned from IPL duty.

PAKISTAN IN TEST MODE

Pakistan, on the other hand, have been preparing for the Test series for a month now. They have played three warm-up matches, with the one-off Test against Ireland nestled in between. And that Test turned out to be extremely competitive.

Sarfraz’s boys have been adjusting to English conditions for a month and should be as prepared for Test cricket as they can be. Whenever the opposition spends so much time in a country before a series, they hit the ground running once the series starts. England should not expect any ‘warm-up’ time.

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Pakistan pacer Mohammad Amir is 'fit and ready to go' against England

David Clough 22/05/2018
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In perfect shapre: Mohammad Amir training at Lord's on Tuesday

Mohammad Amir is in “perfect” shape for the Lord’s Test and ready to expose any England frailties against left-arm pace.

Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur reports Amir fully fit, despite the knee injury which appeared to trouble him during last week’s victory over Ireland in Dublin, for the start of the two-Test NatWest Series on Thursday.

He is confident too that Amir is more than capable of seeking out the vulnerabilities among the home batsmen which were apparent through England’s winless winter – in the Ashes against Mitchell Starc and then when New Zealand’s Trent Boult helped to bowl them out for just 58 in Auckland.

“He’s perfect, 100 per cent,” Arthur said of the pace spearhead who took his 100th Test wicket in his 31st match against Ireland.
“He’s fine, ready to go.”

Amir, 26, is returning for the second time to a hallowed venue where he first outdid and then disgraced himself as a teenager – with a wonderful first-innings six for 84, followed by his involvement in the spot-fixing controversy which resulted in his jail term and five-year ban from cricket.

Two years ago, in Pakistan’s 2-2 drawn series in England, Amir was back with some fine bowling which did not perhaps bring deserving figures.

Arthur added: “I think Mohammad Amir is the finest exponent of pace and swing when he gets it 100 per cent right.

“We believe he bowls incredibly well at left-handers, and there will be three left-handers in the (England) top four.

“He’s ready, he’s determined, he’s fit, he’s strong, he’s excited …”

Arthur insists he has no concerns, meanwhile, about the output of key batsmen Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq.

“I’m not at all worried by them.

“They are quality players – their records speak for themselves.

“They roll up, they are big-match players, they’re fine and they’re all batting really well at the moment.

“I’m confident they’ll deliver for us.”

He will be urging the tourists to take an attacking rather than attritional approach over the next two weeks.

Asked if Pakistan can defy the predictions of many that they may struggle at Lord’s and then Headingley, Arthur said: “Of course we can, definitely.

“We haven’t come here not to win.”

The South African has a healthy respect for his opponents who traditionally excel at home.

“In their home conditions, England are a different team to England abroad.

“(But) if we play well enough, this is a changing room full of very, very skilled cricketers, very young cricketers, fearless cricketers – guys that don’t fear failure.

“They are an intelligent, skilful bunch of cricketers, who if we get the breaks and things go our way, will certainly put England under pressure.

“There are going to be times when you need to control the game… but for us the best form of pressure is if we can put pressure back on the opposition – and we do that by attacking.

“The emphasis is on taking wickets and on scoring (quickly).”

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