Pakistan need Azam’s runs to pose threat to hosts’ proud record
Winning in England is the gold standard, but tourists must get best out of their star batsman if they are to succeed
After three days at home, a quick hello to partners and children, England are back in biobubble security in Covidhit Manchester to defend a proud home record against a talented Pakistan side brimming with potential and unpredictable talent.
England may have a woeful record in the opening matches of recent Test series, losing their last five if you do not count the one-off against Ireland last summer in which they were bowled out for 85.
But while they may be slow starters, England are strong finishers and winning in this country is the gold standard for every touring captain because it is so difficult.
Last year Tim Paine hoped to become the first Australia captain to win an Ashes in England for 18 years. A month ago it was Jason Holder dreaming of being the first West Indian to lead his side to a series win here since 1988. Now Azhar Ali, captain of Pakistan, is looking to snatch the prize of guiding his country to victory in England after failure to do so since Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were in their pomp in 1996.
Over the past 20 years England have lost just five of 41 home series and the unique circumstances of this summer play further into their hands. They go into this series battle-hardened by a competitive contest against West Indies, and it was noticeable how it was the touring side who were gradually worn down by the suffocating life in a biobubble. Touring sides are confined to the hotels for longer than England, and Pakistan have already been here for four weeks, training in Derby and Worcester.
They have played only intrasquad games, which are a long way removed from real cricket.
Joe Root spent the weekend changing nappies and mulling over his bowling options. “This environment can take a lot out of you mentally and to get that little reset and a chance to get home was massive for everyone,” he said. “Everyone’s gained a lot from that and is ready to go again.”
Pakistan pose a greater threat than West Indies because of Babar Azam, a batsman capable of big hundreds. He has scored 22 per cent of his side’s runs since 2019, the highest share of any batsman over that period, and can learn on this tour from batting coach and Pakistan’s highest run scorer, Younis Khan, about the art of playing late against the Dukes ball.
The rest of their batting is the worry. Azhar’s form has declined since he took on the captaincy. James Anderson has dismissed opener Shan Masood six times in 57