Writing in his exclusive blog for PakPassion.net, Pakistan all-rounder Azhar Mahmood discusses the upcoming series between Pakistan and England in the UAE and why he feels Shoaib Malik should play in the Test matches against England, Mohammad Amir's return to international cricket and what the PCB must do to battle the menace of illegal bowling actions.
By Azhar Mahmood (8th October, 2015)
Pakistan versus England Test series
With England now in the UAE to play a series against Pakistan, the question on most people’s minds is whether Pakistan can repeat the whitewash which they inflicted on England in 2012. My opinion is that this will not be an easy series for Pakistan.
To start with, the Pakistan team composition has changed. In 2012, the vastly experienced Saeed Ajmal was our prime bowler and spin was a dominant factor in that series. Not only are we missing the services of Saeed Ajmal now, we do not have Abdur Rehman who also played a pivotal role in our success. Instead we have the slightly inexperienced duo of Yasir Shah who will most likely be supported by Zulfiqar Babar.
If you look at the England team today, you will see a team which is riding high on confidence and has been playing an aggressive brand of cricket in the past few months. They have a number of players who could prove dangerous for Pakistan. However, they do have a weakness against spin and if there is spin in the wickets, they will surely struggle. I have seen this in county cricket where local players find it difficult to bat the moment there is turn for the spinners.
All in all, Pakistan has the advantage due to England’s weakness against spin but no one can say that a three nil drubbing of the sort that happened in 2012 will happen again. England do have some good players of spin for example Moeen Ali who can bowl and bat well. I really feel that this will be a tough and hard fought series and will not be like the previous series.
An interesting point to note is that England have brought along Mahela Jayawardene as batting consultant. Jayawardene’s record speaks for itself and he is truly one of the greats of the game. Regardless of the experience he brings to the table, he can only advise the England players on how to tackle Pakistan's spinners; he cannot bat for them. At the end of the day, it’s down to the batsmen to go out in the middle and do their job. One must also consider the fact that Jayawardene has just started working with the England players so it’s not as simple as getting an expert and then expecting players to follow his advice. Yes, he will have some useful advice about playing spin bowling such as how to play late or how to upset the line and length of the bowler etc but like I said, it will be down to the individuals to put that advice into practice.
Turning to the Pakistan Test squad, I see that Shoaib Malik has recently been inducted in the Test squad based upon his recent performances. I know that this is a fairly settled unit and playing eleven but Shoaib Malik is in great form. He should be included in Pakistan's line-up for the Test series against England
He is an excellent middle-order player and can easily make the team especially given that he is averaging 100 in ODIs this year, has over five hundred runs in eleven matches which cannot be ignored. The Pakistan team management will ultimately decide on the final line-up but if it was up to me, I would include Malik for at least the first Test. Cricket is a game which is based on the confidence of players and in Shoaib’s case, his confidence must be sky-high as he has been scoring runs with ease so why not make use of that? Ignoring him now will probably dent his confidence which will not be good for him or Pakistan. Since we have inducted him in the Test squad for this reason, then it stands to reason that we must play him in Test matches.
Illegal Bowling Actions in Pakistan
I am a little perplexed at what has happened to what appeared to be Pakistan’s most recent spin find, Bilal Asif. Here we had a spinner who recently won a Man of the Match award for his five wickets against Zimbabwe and was being praised by all and sundry so it is shocking to hear that he has been called for a suspected illegal action by the umpires. Pakistan spinners seem to be most affected by ICC’s new rules on chucking so the question has to be asked about what the PCB is doing about this affliction. My view is simple, the issues with bowling actions need to be sorted at the domestic level and not left to be discovered at the international level. The PCB, therefore, needs to take strong action and clampdown on such actions at the domestic level to avoid embarrassment at the international stage.
Mohammad Amir's return
Another topic trending a lot among followers of the game is that of Mohammad Amir. He is apparently doing very well in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy qualifying rounds with plenty of wickets to his name and many are wondering if he should also be inducted in the Pakistan team at the earliest. Whilst I am pleased with his performance, I would still urge caution on this account. I would like him to play more domestic cricket as unfortunately, taking wickets in domestic cricket is relatively easy. Given a bowler of Amir’s talent and the domestic conditions, one would expect him to take wickets with ease. Remember he is bowling again after a gap of five years and his body has to adjust to such stresses put on it after such a long time. I believe it would be best if he is allowed to play one complete season before being considered for any international assignment. This way it will give his body time to get stronger and avoid the situation where he breaks down with an injury when playing international cricket. That would indeed be a big loss for Pakistan. Having said that, the fact that Amir is performing so well at the domestic level must also be putting pressure on some of the other bowlers who are already part of the national side. This type of healthy competition can only be good news for Pakistan cricket as it makes all the bowlers work harder and perform better to hold their positions in the team.
Pakistan Super League
I am really looking forward to participating in the Pakistan Super League. I have forwarded my name for the draft and will hopefully be picked to play for one of the teams. The tournament promises to be an exciting one with a number of top international players like Chris Gayle participating in it. Ideally and I have said this before, I would have liked this to have taken place in Pakistan but holding it in the UAE also has great benefits for Pakistan players who will be able to gain experience by playing alongside the top names in cricket. The inexperienced players will learn a lot from sharing the dressing room and this will be of great benefit to Pakistan cricket. Like I said, it would have been nicer to have this being played in front of our youngsters on home grounds as they can learn a lot from watching stars on the field. Only when you are physically present at the ground can you observe and understand how the bowlers prepare themselves for the day ahead which can be beneficial for our youngsters. This is something that is not shown on TV as cameras don’t focus on these aspects of the game. Again for our younger players, playing at home in front of packed houses can only make them better prepared for international cricket, in much the same way as IPL has done for Indian cricketers.
I have been asked a few times about my views on when would be the right time for Misbah-ul-Haq to hand over the captaincy to younger player and also leave the game and my answer to that is simple. It’s really up to him! I am forty myself and am still playing so I can understand that if he feels he wants to continue and his body is up to it and he is still performing, then that is his decision. He has been a great servant of Pakistan and I wish him the best of luck in the upcoming series against England and in any future series that he wishes to play in.
I would like to end by mentioning something which I enjoy doing and that is coaching. This is something that gives me satisfaction and a lot of pleasure. It's an aspect of the game that I would like to continue to do in future also. With the World T20 next year, I'd love to have the opportunity to work as a member of the coaching staff for one of the teams.