Arresting Pakistan's Test decline is Misbah-ul-Haq's biggest challenge as head coach

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A new innings in Pakistan cricket for Misbah.

It came as no surprise when Misbah-ul-Haq was declared as the new head coach of Pakistan on Thursday with the former skipper handed a three-year contract on his appointment.

Misbah was widely seen as the clear favourite ever since he formally applied for the job but it is the move to also hand him chief-selector duties simultaneously that shows the vast amount of faith the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) have placed on his appointment.

The 45-year-old has no prior coaching experience as such but his calming presence might just be what Pakistan cricket needs at the moment. Nine years ago, the Pakistan captaincy was thrust upon Misbah at one of the lowest points in the cricketing nation’s history.

Despite having to take over a fractured dressing room in the aftermath of the 2010 spot-fixing scandal in England, Misbah won many admirers with his stoic leadership in what ultimately turned out to be a near seven-year tenure.

His limited-overs captaincy did invite its fair share of criticism but Misbah was responsible for turning around the dwindling fortunes of the Test side by turning the team’s adopted home in the UAE into a fortress. The crowning achievement of his captaincy came in 2016 when Pakistan ascended to the top of the ICC Test rankings for the first time since 1988.

Since then, Pakistan have plummeted to seventh position in the Test rankings with the team’s proud record in the UAE punctured as well with recent series defeats against Sri Lanka and New Zealand.

Rebuilding the foundations of the Test squad will be Misbah’s most important mandate in his latest role with Pakistan cricket even as the PCB attempts to make sweeping changes to the domestic first-class set up.

Under previous coach Mickey Arthur, Pakistan did find success in limited-overs cricket with their 2017 Champions Trophy triumph and ascend to No1 in the T20I rankings but their performances in the five-day format suffered.

Returning Pakistan to the top in Test cricket is a huge challenge given the team’s current struggles but Misbah may be the man to do just that given time. A three-year contract is a big commitment from the PCB and the former batsman is a man who will instantly command the respect of all players.

It isn’t exactly crisis hour for Pakistan as it was in 2010 but the challenge ahead is equally daunting for their greatest-ever Test captain.

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Spin set to dominate as Bangladesh and Afghanistan prepare for maiden Test showdown

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Bangladesh have adopted a spin-heavy approach.

Bangladesh and Afghanistan are set for their maiden red-ball meeting as the two sides get ready to lock horns in a one-off Test at Chattogram which gets underway on Friday.

Bangladesh turned heads when they named a spin-heavy bowling attack for the Test with as many as five spinners including skipper Shakib Al Hasan included in the 15-man squad. Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Taijul Islam, Mosaddek Hossain and Nayeem Hasan are the four other spinners in the Bangladesh squad while only three pacers have been picked overall.

Some have questioned the hosts’ spin heavy approach for the one-off Test but Shakib is having none of it.

“We don’t criticise England and Australia for picking four seamers and no spinners,” Shakib stated on the eve of the Chattogram Test.

“So, I am not too bothered about it. We will try to win with one, two or three seamers, but we must stick to our plan.

“Whenever our spinners have got their preferred type of pitches, they have done well at home. Having said that, they (Afghanistan) also have quality spinners. I feel the batting of both teams will make the difference.”

For Afghanistan, it will be their third Test meeting since they gained full ICC membership along with Ireland last year. They were beaten comprehensively by India in their maiden clash in the format before they beat Ireland in a one-off Test at Dehradun earlier this year in March.

It will be the first Test in charge as skipper for Rashid Khan and the ace leg-spinner wants his side to learn quickly in the format instead of concentrating on results.

“We are new in this format,” Rashid stated.

“We cannot be expected to beat Australia in our third or fourth game. I think over time we will get better, like we saw Bangladesh beating Australia. Once we get everything right, we can beat other teams.

“But experience-wise, you need to play more matches in this format. We have the experience and knowledge of ODIs and T20Is, but it takes time in Test cricket. The quicker we learn, the better we will become.”

The 20-year-old was last month appointed as Afghanistan skipper across all three formats following the team’s disastrous 2019 World Cup campaign where they failed to win a single match.

The Afghanistan captaincy has been a mess in recent times with the board initially appointing three different skippers for the various formats. It was Rahmat Shah who was initially slated to lead the Test side but the World Cup disaster led the Afghanistan Cricket Board to appoint Rashid instead in all three formats.

Despite the frequent captaincy changes, Rashid will not allow the pressure of the job to affect his game.

“Captaincy won’t be a burden on me,” he said.

“Senior cricketers like Mohammad Nabi and Asghar Afghan are always helping me. I won’t put myself under extra pressure.

“I am focused fully on my bowling, and I don’t know who is the captain. I will try to keep enjoying what I do, be relaxed and as cool as possible. If I take pressure, it will affect my performance and put my team under pressure too.”

Afghanistan are not a part of the inaugural ICC World Test Championship and the one-off clash against Bangladesh will not have any bearing on the tournament for either side.

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Ashes fourth Test LIVE: England and Australia start pivotal duel at Old Trafford

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Australia skipper Tim Paine opted to bat after winning the toss at Old Trafford, as the Ashes comes to a head in the fourth Test at Old Trafford.

Steve Smith has returned in place of the struggling Usman Khawaja, while left-arm quick Mitchell Starc replaces Peter Siddle.

England have changed up their bowling attack as the out-of-form Chris Woakes drops out for paceman Craig Overton.

For live ball-by-ball updates, follow the scorecard below:

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