Test cricket in England is about arming yourself with the most effective fast bowlers. Ones who are not just quick, but skilled enough to control swimming conditions and exploit pitches that encourage seam movement.
Not all overseas teams compile their attacks well given this information. Pakistan, though, know what it takes to thrive in these conditions.
They have not lost a series on these shores since 2010. In between, they have won three of six Tests to square series in 2016 and 2018, while pocketing series wins out in the United Arab Emirates in 2012 and 2015.
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A number of their players have had county cricket experience: the most notable in recent times being stellar batsman Babar Azam and metronomic pace bowler Mohammad Abbas. But while those two will be the marquee names heading into the three-match series that begins on Wednesday, the excited whispers are on a 17-year old who is threatening to take the whole world by storm.
There are queries as to the “real” age of Naseem Shah. But what is for certain, though, is that he possesses a classical action underpinned by the pace and movement many spend their lives trying to obtain.
To say that of a player with only four Test caps and 12 first class matches under his belt seems, well, over the top. But there is a convention in those statistics that have never really done precocious talents justice. But within those four in international whites, he has 13 wickets at 26 and a Test hat-trick – taken when he was just 16, making him the youngest to achieve the feat.
The debut, at the Gabba last winter, showed promise. Now there is a sense he is about to go big. In two intra-squad matches up at Derby, where Pakistan were based in the UK a month ago, he took 10 wickets, including a five for 55 and four for 52. None of this is unexpected: from the batsmen dismissed to his head coach, Misbah-ul-Haq, who knows what it takes to oversee wins in this part of the world.
“Before going to Australia,” begins Misbah, “Waqar Younis and me just saw him in the Gaddafi Stadium. At that time he just looked like a complete bowler and we decided that even though he hadn’t played first-class cricket and then he played four games and took 17 wickets then he went to Australia.
“We could see the potential but now we’ve got the evidence at international level, he already got a hat-trick and five-fors. If you see his experience and his cricket then the sample size is too small but he’s already fulfilling his potential. He is one who could win a Test match on his own so we’re looking forward for him to emerge as a very good bowler in this series.”
Of course, it is not all on Naseem. Abbas took 10 wickets in the 2018 series and as a bowler in county cricket has 79 first class dismissals at 20.67 for Leicestershire. Tall left-armer Shaheen Afridi is also a unique proposition, as is the stalwart that is Wahab Riaz.
One player who was missing from 2018 was leg spinner Yasir Shah. A hip injury ruled him out of the Test against Ireland and the two against England. His absence meant Pakistan were without their leading wicket-taker from 2016 (19). With a clean bill of health, Misbah is keen to see how his wrist-spinner can influence matters this time around.
“Yasir Shah is bowling well and he played a wider role when we last visited England in two victories at Lord’s and The Oval (2016). You could say he was the main bowler who took wickets in the two Test matches. That always plays a huge role on your mind and the opposition’s mind, also. He bowled well during the practice matches and we’ve got a good attack that can cause problems for England.
Misbah, though, is under no illusion that the challenge facing Pakistan’s batsman is perhaps greater than what England’s have to cope with. That is more down to being used to conditions rather than the make-up of the respective attacks.
And when one of those attacks has two of only four seamers to take over 500 Test wickets in James Anderson and Stuart Broad, the caution and patience preached by Misbah is well-placed. Especially from a right-hander who averaged 45 in English conditions, with two centuries to boot.
“Anderson and Stuart Broad are experienced campaigners and we know how good they are, especially in English conditions with the Duke ball. Obviously that’s a challenge for you as a team. If an in-form bowler you can negotiate him well, then you give yourself a chance, so we’re looking forward to playing him well.
“You always look for good performances against these top performers and we are looking forward. This is one thing if we can do better, we have a better chance.”