Misbah-ul-Haq has admitted it was a worrying moment to see his star spinner, Yasir Shah, poleaxed in the nets when he took a blow on the shoulder on Wednesday.
Yasir was sent for a precautionary scan but Misbah said he would be “okay” for a match where he is expected to have another significant impact on a ground with a history of helping spinners.
He is the fulcrum of Pakistan’s attack, allowing them to operate with four frontline bowlers. The one Test he has missed since his debut was against England in Abu Dhabi last year, after he suffered a back spasm. England were able to score 598 for 9 and almost stole a victory on the final day. Yasir may not have made a major difference on what was a dead pitch for four days and two sessions, but Pakistan’s attack was far less daunting without him.
Since Yasir returned, Pakistan have won three consecutive Tests against England – at Dubai, Sharjah and Lord’s – during which he has taken 25 wickets.
Seven of the last 12 five-wicket hauls in Tests at Old Trafford have been taken by spinners and although that period overlaps the rotation of the square the surface has retained his characteristics of offering bounce and turn.
However, even buoyed by their success at Lord’s, Misbah was eager to stress how the players start with a blank sheet of paper in this match, despite Yasir riding on the crest of a wave following his 10-wicket haul which propelled him to No. 1 in the world.
“It doesn’t matter which ground we play on,” Misbah said. “If a bowler is really good he can produce results anywhere. He bowled beautifully at Lord’s but everyone will need to bowl well again, not just Yasir. All four need to step up.”
How England respond to the challenge posed by Yasir has been a recurring theme and their performance at Lord’s, especially in the first innings when they were well placed to compete with Pakistan’s 339, revived memories of collapses inspired by Shane Warne, which came more from within the mind of the batsmen than the actual threat posed by the surface.
But saying that Misbah is outwardly calm is an understatement so it was hardly surprising that he was not shouting from the rooftops about a repeat performance in Manchester and instead was preparing for a better showing from England’s batsmen
“It’s all about how you apply yourself, overcome mistakes of previous Test. Every game is new, wicket different, you have to adjust and that could sometimes be a challenge when you’re a little bit down and short on confidence, but international players can do that. We have to be ready for that. If they play Yasir well we should have other plans.”
While there are many reasons for Pakistan to be a content, confident side going into the second Test they may want to look with caution at the example of India in 2014 when they won at Lord’s only to fold in the following three Tests. The matchwinning skills in Pakistan’s first-choice attack – injuries would test their depth – mean that such a swing in fortunes is more unlikely. There is even an argument to say that in Mohammad Amir’s case, with the pressure of his comeback Test dealt with and overs under his belt, he may be better for the run out.
Another key difference is that in the India series two lively surfaces at Old Trafford and The Oval played firmly into England’s hands. In this series, Pakistan’s attack is as likely to enjoy such conditions as England’s.
Still, Pakistan are not without issues the main one being their opening combination of Mohammad Hafeez and Shan Masood. They made scores of 40, 7, 0 and 24 at Lord’s, meaning that Azhar Ali was exposed early at No. 3 and Younis Khan was at the crease inside 20 overs in both innings.
Pakistan nailed their colours to the mast by playing the same batsmen in both their pre-series warm-ups and the only chance for the reserve players to have a hit will be in the two-game against Worcestershire following the second Test. Still, Masood could find himself under pressure if he does not deliver at Old Trafford with England’s seamers seemingly having his number outside off stump.
“It can happen in these conditions against the new ball,” Misbah said. “Don’t be impatient, give them confidence and back them. You have got to believe they can deliver, that’s the only way.”
Hafeez has now completed his 12-month suspension for a suspect action and is eligible for a re-test, which Pakistan are considering trying to fit in before the third Test at Edgbaston.
“That could give us a big advantage,” Misbah said, “if we have him when the opposition have four or five left-handers.”
A serious fifth-bowling option, and a spinner who turns the ball the opposite direction to Yasir. It would make an already compelling Pakistan attack look even more threatening. For now, they are managing superbly well with what they have available although they would probably appreciate Yasir not being peppered by his team-mates.