Azhar Ali does not have runs on this tour but is Pakistan’s best-performing Test batsman in the last two years. Asad Shafiq has runs on the tour but is among Pakistan’s poorer performing Test specialists. Mickey Arthur is not worried about either of them.
Half the point of the latter end of the MisYou era was to ensure that Azhar and Shafiq would be groomed and ready to take over once the senior pair departed. It hasn’t worked out quite as smoothly as that, though there’s hardly a sample to go on.
Two years ago when the pair arrived at Lord’s, their career averages were identical: 43.37 for Azhar and 43.28 for Shafiq. Since then Azhar has bloomed where Shafiq has shriveled; Azhar now averages 45.84 and Shafiq 39.53.
But on this tour, back up to opening, Azhar has struggled for runs. He scored 73 against a weak Leicestershire attack, following a run of 15, 9, 10, 4 and 2. Shafiq has a big hundred against Northamptonshire and a 62 in Malahide, but a longer-term lean run means there should be some concern as the pair face up to their sternest tests this summer.
Not so. “I’m not at all worried by them,” Arthur said. “They are quality players, their records speak for themselves. They’ve got very good Test records. They roll up, they are big-match players, they’re fine and they are all batting really well at the moment.”
That last statement does not necessarily stack up to the evidence of most eyes and a tough old nets session on Tuesday at Lord’s can be taken both ways: that it was good practice ahead of the Test, or that it was further proof of the rut they are in.
Ever the optimist, Arthur took the former. “They are getting stuck in. Nets were challenging today which was good but the guys stuck it out really well. I’m confident they’ll deliver for us.”
Those concerns could be compounded by a nasty knock Babar Azam took on his right hand facing up to Rahat Ali, one of several Pakistan’s batsmen took on practice surfaces with a little mischief in them. It forced him out of the session for a while though Pakistan remain are not concerned that it could impact his participation come Thursday.
The only other wrinkle for Pakistan to resolve will be picking one of Rahat or Hasan Ali. After Rahat’s colourless return to the Pakistan side against Ireland, Hasan was expected to be a shoo-in.
But Hasan picked up a minor injury to his bowling hand in the side game against Leicestershire and did not bowl on Tuesday. The management is confident though that he will bowl on Wednesday and so be fit to start on Thursday.