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Explained: As they play England at Old Trafford, what promise do Pakistan’s bowlers offer?

Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Afridi and the wily leggie Yasir Shah could make this series Pakistan's. They present an unknown challenge to England, and there is plenty of reason to tune in to watch them bowl.

Written by Sandip G , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: August 5, 2020 1:56:15 pm
england vs pakistan, eng vs pak, eng vs pak live score, eng vs pak live, eng vs pak 1st test, eng vs pak 1st test live score, eng vs pak 1st test live cricket score, live cricket streaming, live streaming, live cricket online Pakistan cricket team huddle during a nets session at Old Trafford ground in Manchester, England, Monday Aug. 3, 2020. (Gareth Copley/Pool via AP)

The four seamers in the Pakistan squad for the first Test that starts in Manchester on Wednesday (August 5), have collected only 145 wickets among themselves, which is just five more than the combined haul of England’s second-fiddle bowlers, Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer.

Needless to say, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, with 589 and 501 Test match wickets respectively, are light years ahead of them, in both stature and experience. (Follow live updates on the match)

But to underestimate any Pakistani bowling firm, no matter how callow they seem to be, is to be reckless. England would know this more than any other side. In 2018, two little known seamers Mohammad Abbas and Hasan Ali harassed them, and in 2016, Sohail Khan and Wahab Riaz inflicted the damage.

So while this edition of Pakistani seamers might not be the most romanticised bunch to have arrived in England, they just might end up rattling the relatively unsettled batting line-up of the hosts. And then there is the familiar nemesis, leg-spinner Yasir Shah, of course.

What could be Pakistan’s likely bowling combination?

Old Trafford is one of Pakistan’s least favourite venues in the country. As was evident during the England-West Indies series last month, a drier-than-usual surface awaits them this time.

The surface offered sufficient turn, with the West Indies’s part-time spinner Roston Chase picking up a five-for in the second Test. England’s Dom Bess was sparsely used, but whenever he bowled, he did get turn.

This could encourage Pakistan to draft two spinners into the side. Leg-spinner Yasir Shah is a certainty, and his most likely partner would be leg-spinning all-rounder Shadab Khan. The left-arm spinner Kashif Bhatti presents a left-field option who is also a competent batsman.

But the extra spinner will not be at the expense of a fast bowler. As has been their strategy, Pakistan will likely not budge from their default three-seamer setting.

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How good are Pakistan’s seamers?

It’s a relatively inexperienced but promising bunch.

The most experienced of them is Mohammad Abbas, who has played 18 Tests. Blighted by injuries, his career hasn’t quite taken off after the sterling effort in Pakistan’s previous tour to England. Nonetheless, he still has an average of 20 and when the going is good, he could be quite a handful.

While he barely nudges 80 mph, Abbas’s great strength is his consistency of length, plugging away at good length just outside the corridor. He usually seams it slightly into the right-handed batsman, ensuring that he makes them play at nearly 80 per cent of his deliveries.

Abbas’s length could be deadly in England. He is also the perfect foil to the two young tearaways, Shaheen Afridi and Naseem Shah, who are widely billed as the future of Pakistan’s bowling, the inheritors of a rich legacy.

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What is special about Naseem Shah and Shaheen Afridi?

They have a variety of distinct skills at their disposal. Both can be rather quick, though in their effort to bowl fast, they are sometimes prone to spraying it around. Both can purchase seam movement when the ball is new, and reverse swing when the ball gets older (although the ban on using saliva, and lush grass could prove to be detrimental).

Naseem Shah already has a couple of milestones to his name—at age 17, he is the second youngest to pick a five-for, and the youngest to nab a hat-trick in Tests. He generates unnerving pace from a shortish but elegant run-up, and in the two warm-up games in Derby, he picked 10 wickets at 16 apiece.

Afridi is a different proposition. With his 6-foot-6 height, bounce, and unusual angles, he could be unlike any fast bowler the England batsman have faced in recent times. Like Naseem, he can be relentlessly hostile, unlike the ageing West Indies pace pack who laboured to sustain their pace and precision.

Afridi is older than Naseem but still only 20, and like Naseem, fresh and eager to make an impression. He is that rare breed of left-arm seamer who can hit the deck too, besides having the ability to swing the ball from a fuller length. The latter is a quality that is expected in most left-arm seamers, but hitting the deck comes rarely, and that makes Afridi more dangerous.

Can Yasir Shah make the difference?

For most of England’s top six, Yasir Shah could be the most dangerous spinner they have ever encountered. Barring Ben Stokes, Joe Root and Jos Buttler, none of the England batsmen have played a spinner, let alone a leggie, of his guile and quality.

Yasir is an old-fashioned, classical bowler with a neat action. The ball fizzes out of the back of his hand, the leg-spinner turns and bounces, which accounts for so many left-handed batsmen being caught at short-leg.

He has the googly to keep batsmen honest and guessing, and he bowls at a pace that makes it far from straightforward for batsmen to advance down the wicket against him.

Root has dealt with Yasir with a fair degree of success in Dubai, but he could pose difficult questions to Ben Stokes. Theirs could be a mouth-watering, series-defining, clash. The most experienced of Pakistan’s bowlers holds the key to unlock a victorious campaign.

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