Pakistan all-rounder Azhar Mahmood in his latest blog for PakPassion.net writes about Pakistan's victorious tour of Sri Lanka, chances of repeating their Test whitewash in the UAE against a rampant England line-up, the role of Yasir Shah as a front-line bowler for Pakistan and also pays tribute to the now retired Sri Lanka batsman Kumar Sangakkara.
By Azhar Mahmood (20th August, 2015)
Pakistan in Sri Lanka
It was very heartening to see Pakistan win all three series across the formats. The team combinations looked good and the teams looked settled in all of the formats. The energy level from the Pakistan limited overs teams was great and this was due to the introduction of youth. One-day and twenty over cricket is predominantly a young man's game and the Pakistan team reaped the rewards of introducing young players with fresh legs. In addition credit must be given to the coaching staff and fitness trainers who prepared the players well for the series in Sri Lanka.
The body language of the players looked very good in Sri Lanka and the fitness levels were impressive. In addition the team spirit looked much better, the players were playing as a team and for each other and not for themselves and that is a very good sign for Pakistan cricket.
As a professional cricketer it shouldn't matter how many captains you are playing under. Your job should be to get on the field and perform for your country. The core of the team is playing in all three formats and I think all three captains are handling their respective teams well. It's important though that the captains lead from the front and perform well themselves, because if the captain is performing well then that spurs his team mates on to perform. There could be some issues if the captains are playing in other formats but that isn't really the case at the moment apart from Azhar Ali who is playing under Misbah-ul-Haq in Tests. It can get a bit awkward if a senior player is playing under a young captain but that isn't really the case at the moment, so I think it's all fine.
Pakistan versus England
The last time England faced Pakistan in UAE, they of course were whitewashed in the Test series, largely down to Pakistan's tremendous bowling performances. Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman and Mohammad Hafeez were all key in that series with the ball and it's likely that none of the aforementioned will play any part with the ball this time around. It will be tough this time around for Pakistan with three important and experienced bowlers missing, but conditions favour Pakistan and if Pakistan's batsmen can put the runs on the board, then their bowlers can put the England batsmen under a lot of pressure.
England of course have James Anderson who is an excellent bowler and Moeen Ali's performance will be crucial particularly as Graeme Swann is no longer available. Moeen Ali is doing a steady job with the ball for England but they don't seem to have a match-winning spinner who can turn a match for them. The choice of second spinner for England will also be interesting as Adil Rashid hasn't really had many opportunities at the highest level of cricket. Going into the series England's morale is going to be high after the Ashes win and what impresses me about this England team is their attacking philosophy. The England Test batting line-up has a number of attacking batsmen and I'm sure they will look to be positive against the Pakistani spinners. England's approach at the moment shows their approach under the new coaching team. England has a number of dangerous cricketers such as Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Joe Root who are fearless and game changers. I think it will be a closely fought and high quality series, but in those conditions Pakistan has to be slight favourites, as their record in UAE suggests.
He will be the key for Pakistan. He's been so impressive since his introduction to international cricket and is such an attacking bowler. Yasir has proved that he can handle the pressure, his confidence will be very high and he is now the leader of Pakistan's spin attack. England aren't the best at playing spin especially leg-spin and I think Yasir will have a major say in the outcome of the Test series. I think Yasir Shah's box of tricks will cause the England batsmen a lot of problems. However it's very crucial that Pakistan's other bowlers back and support Yasir and the choice of second spinner will be very important.
He's been a fantastic ambassador for not only Sri Lankan cricket, but the game of cricket all over the globe. His record and achievements are extraordinary and he's a great role model for any young cricketer. His work ethic is second to none and even close to his retirement he never took it easy in training. Above all he's a brilliant human being and was fantastic to have as a team mate in the Surrey dressing room. He interacted with all of the players and really helped and guided the younger players.
County Cricket and Pakistanis
It was good to see Umar Akmal playing some county cricket for Leicestershire but what I would like to see is more Pakistani cricketers playing four day cricket in England. It will greatly help their technique and prepare them for the assignment of playing in conditions that are not familiar to them and particularly assist them where the ball is seaming around. I would urge the PCB to encourage Pakistani players to try and get over to the UK to play some four day cricket whenever possible as this can greatly benefit Pakistani players and the team as a whole.
Post County Season
After the current County season I'll be returning to the UAE for some more T20 coaching camps possibly in November and December and then after that I'd like to play in the Masters Champions League. I might also be playing in South Africa in their domestic twenty over competition so it's all set to be busy period for me.