The three-match Test series between England and Pakistan gets underway on Wednesday and supporters of the touring side will be hoping one man in particular is ready for the fight.
The 16-man squad the visitors have named for the first Test features a mixture of talent and experienced heads [The Cricketer].
There’s plenty to be excited about in the bowling department including young quicks Naseem Shah and Shaheen Afridi, while more seasoned campaigners such as Mohammad Abbas and Yasir Shah bring real quality.
Yet, as the West Indies showed last month, it doesn’t matter how dangerous your bowling attack is when your batsmen don’t score big runs.
Captain, Azhar Ali, and experienced lieutenant Asad Shafiq will be required to contribute to that end, but the standout player in the batting lineup is Babar Azam.
The 25-year-old is a class act and his side’s outside chances in this series may hinge on his form.
Azam the key
Azam isn’t as talked about as the likes of Steven Smith and Virat Kohli, but he’s very much a world-class performer. His remarkable current rankings of first in T20I cricket, third in ODIs and sixth in Tests show just that.
After finding the longest format difficult during the early stages of his career, he has now found his feet and is reaping the rewards.
In 2019, he averaged 68 from six Tests with a run of form that included back to back hundreds against Sri Lanka and a hundred at the Gabba.
In his one Test so far in 2020 against Bangladesh, he scored 143 in his only knock.
Capable of batting for long periods and of taking the game away from the opposition in a session, Azam is the kind of top-order player the Windies so sorely lacked in their spirited but eventually doomed attempt to overturn England in July.
The enforced break caused by the global health crisis ensures Pakistan’s key man may have lost some of his momentum heading into this opening Test.
Yet, after getting a number of starts in the warm-up matches, fans will be hoping the vice-captain is ready to go big at Old Trafford.