Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq has urged his top order “to go big” in the third Test against England at Edgbaston starting on Wednesday.
England levelled the four-match series at 1-1 with a crushing 330-run win in the second Test at Old Trafford — a margin of victory that was testimony to the tourists’ batting woes.
It was all a far cry from Pakistan’s 75-run win in the first Test at Lord’s, which featured an inspiring century from Misbah.
Poor starts have been a problem for Pakistan in this series.
But Mohammad Hafeez and Shan Masood are not the first Pakistan opening pair to struggle in English conditions.
Indeed you have to go back to 1996 for the last time a Pakistan first-wicket duo put on a 50 stand in a Test against England in England.
Masood has become something of a ‘bunny’ for James Anderson, England’s all-time leading Test wicket-taker. He has fallen six times for just 15 runs in 57 balls to Lancashire paceman Anderson dating back to last year in the UAE.
Pakistan could promote number three Azhar Ali to open and bring Sami Aslam, yet to feature this series, into the side in place of Masood.
“We need to really improve,” said Misbah. “After getting starts — 20s, 30s and 40s — we really need to go big,” the middle-order stalwart added.
England, however, also look vulnerable at the top of the order if Pakistan can find a way past home captain Alastair Cook and Joe Root, who both made hundreds at Old Trafford.
“If you really have to put pressure on the opposition, it’s important to get their main players out because those are the two pillars of their batting,” said Misbah.
Pakistan leg-spinner Yasir Shah took 10 wickets at Lord’s but only managed one at Old Trafford.
But while his place looks assured, Pakistan could bring in right-armer Sohail Khan for Wahab Riaz in a bid to add variety to what has been the tourists’ all left-arm pace attack so far this series.
England, ahead of what will be their 500th home Test, have made an enforced change.
Fast bowler Steven Finn will replace Ben Stokes, after the all-rounder suffered a calf injury while bowling at Old Trafford.
Finn’s career has been a mixture of the unplayable, as when taking a Test-best six for 79 against Australia at Edgbaston last year, and the insipid.
The Middlesex quick was dropped after going wicketless for the first time in a Test match during the series opener at Lord’s, his home ground.
Nevertheless, Cook said: “He’s a huge talent. On his day, he bowls spells which are incredible to be standing at first slip for, as he did against Australia here (last year).”
Finn edged out Jake Ball, who made his Test debut at Lord’s, and Cook said: “We’ve gone for a guy with a proven Test record, who has a knack of picking up wickets.”
Chris Woakes’s superb form has helped England cope with fellow pace-bowling all-rounder Stokes’s repeated absences this season.
Warwickshire favourite Woakes, now looking forward to a first Test appearance on his Edgbaston home ground, has been a revelation in England’s four home Tests this term.
He has taken 26 wickets and scored 221 runs in a series of fine all-round displays.
It’s all a far cry from the first six matches of his Test career, with Woakes managing just one wicket for 144 runs against South Africa at Centurion in January.
“I’d played six Tests and taken eight or nine wickets — which isn’t a record you want to shout about,” said the 27-year-old Woakes at an event staged by series sponsors Investec.
“(I was thinking) ‘I can do it at first-class level, why am I not showing it at the next level?’
“You obviously have doubts about yourself…but it’s amazing what six months can do for you.”