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

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport | First Test - By Nick Hoult

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

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