Pakistan can target England’s ‘fragile’ top order, says Azhar Ali

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England’s “fragile” top order will be the target of Pakistan in their upcoming Test series, according to captain Azhar Ali.

A 20-man squad travelled to England on Sunday for the tour, which begins with three Tests, with 18 of Pakistan’s initial 29-man group having been given the all-clear following the latest coronavirus tests.

Fast bowler Musa Khan and wicketkeeper Rohail Nazir have joined those 18 in making the trip.

Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Rizwan, Shadab Khan and Wahab Riaz were among those to test positive for COVID-19 and those who have been infected must return two negative tests before they can travel to England.

Pakistan are set to face an England side who have struggled to replace Alastair Cook since his retirement from international duty in 2018.

Excluding nightwatchman Jack Leach, England have used five different opening pairings and found consistency hard to come by.

The obdurate Rory Burns displayed promise in the Ashes, while Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley and Joe Denly will be in contention to open alongside him when England face West Indies in a three-match series starting on July 8, prior to the Pakistan games.

“Their bowling attack is brilliant in their own conditions and there is no doubt about it,” Azhar said prior to Pakistan’s departure for England.

“Other than Jofra Archer we have faced all of them – [Stuart] Broad, [James] Anderson, [Chris] Woakes, [Ben] Stokes and even [Mark] Wood was there, but we have still won against them.

“Looking at their batting, their top order has been fragile for some time since Alastair Cook retired.

“They have tried a lot of combinations lately and might be looking a bit more settled, but they haven’t been really confident with it. So there is something for us in it to look at.”

Fast bowlers Naseem Shah and Shaheen Shah Afridi might be lacking in experience of English conditions, but Azhar has confidence in their ability to overcome a lack of practice on the surfaces they will encounter.

“In terms of number of games, of course England have tons of experience in their bowling,” Azhar added. “But we have the skills: they [our bowlers] are young and have a lot to offer. They can give trouble to any team in the world. In a very short time, they have achieved a lot and that is a good sign.

“You can’t buy experience immediately, and for that you obviously have to play more, but then we have a very experienced coaching staff with Waqar Younis and Mushtaq Ahmed.

“Their expertise and knowledge can be utilised and they will be helping them. So I believe, when this combo of experience and skill is brought together, that we can produce a great result. I am confident about this.”