You look at capped and experienced members to stand up in important series such as this one. Younis was recently ranked in the top 5 on the ICC rankings for test batsmen and averaged above 80 in the 2011 test calendar year with a century, double century and 4 half centuries. A lot will be expected from him and he’ll be the key wicket England will be looking for. He’s enjoying his duties and role in the current team. Younis is hungrier and fitter than ever. There is a high chance of him going on to be MOTS should the hosts have a successful series. His work ethic, sportsmanship sprit, fighting spirit, quick learning credentials and sharp mind are the stand out attributes of the accomplished middle order batsmen. The forward prod against spinners is dead batted like a genius where even the good length deliveries are quickly dealt with right down to the ground with soft hands with an air of conviction, the adjusted higher bat lift where he looks to get off side of the ball and work back in the V or respectfully greet should it not quite be there and sweep to irritate the length of the bowler. Against pacers, it’s the textbook cover drive which stands out, the run down to third man, the neat flick off the pads when placing the ball fine and the death touch utilising the pace, angle and vacancy or the controlled edge steered away past gully where he watches it onto the blade carefully, dabs it late and doesn’t chase after the line to pick up a boundary from a defensive stroke. Not to forget the full blooded cut and pull which he nails getting into position quickly for slamming hard and neat workings into the leg side to keep ticking over and accumulating. The forward push against the quicker men is kept/seen out tightly where he lines up the delivery and covers the movement, sign of a good player. It’s not just where his batting will have a crucial part to play, but with his advice and suggestions in the field, his top notch catching where the former Pakistan captain is a handful. Younis will be influential.
Misbah ul Haq has the 2nd highest average by a captain after Sir Don with a remarkable batting average of 75 after 12 tests with the skipper’s arm band. Misbah has scored 10 50s (3 being unbeaten) and 1 unbeaten century in 17 innings as captain (excluding single figure not out scores). He leads from the front, relishes responsibilities and the burden of captaincy doesn’t affect his performance. The added responsibility is an area where he thrives. Also, a fine fielder who claimed 30 international catches in 2011. The world underestimated him when he was appointed captain in October 2010 and now it’s safe to say that the appointment was a master stroke. The captain is a resistant player of spin and medium pacers, who can defend stoutly, apply himself at the wicket, handle proceedings with purpose and measure, summarise situations efficiently, price tag his wicket as the toffee apple who the opposition will savour more than the rest, improvise innovatively, nudge away and get stuck under the opposition’s noses and act as the ‘glue’ to the innings. Spirited resilience, stamina and cunningness are some of the many characteristics he possesses. The trade mark stroke is the push into the on side through mid wicket and mid on when a pacer strays in line and as for the spinners it has be the one knee special slog sweep and paddle sweeps. Every now and again Misbah is willing to bring his one day game into it by backing away, exposing his stumps, reverse sweeping, chancing his arms. In short, amazingly consistent, yet unpredictable in his approach as he has a range of gears, but the resoluteness is what is required more often than not where the skipper can be repetitively rock solid with those forward pushes, keen prods, watchful traps, backfoot taps and harmless leaves.
Undoubtedly, the best find for the hosts in tests over the last few years is someone who will absorb the pressure, grind in for the long vigil and stabilise the innings and ensure his resilience, resistance and endurance is evident to one and all. Azhar is a classical and technically efficient old school stylist who will demonstrate spirit, guts, determination in abundance. If you value mental toughness, discipline, gutsiness, steadiness and an unflappable temperament you will enjoy watching his approach. I expect Geoff Boycott to sing his praises and really rate him in a high regard during his radio stints with TMS. It’s his style of operation, trust yourself, vow not to make the slightest mistakes and risky freely look to overcome passages and graft away unfazed with a tidy defence along with controlled shot selection being the forte. If you don’t get him early, you have your work cut out as he will not get frustrated by being bogged down and eventually will gradually squeeze the oxygen out the bowling attack by wearing out the attack, building lengthy partnerships and closing an end down shut up stop. England will inevitably have some flat days in the field, should Azhar get going as he has come on in leaps and bounds make no mistake about that. Azhar greets the ball on merit, switches off well in between balls, goes through the repetitive processes, maintains strict discipline and is happy to play the unexcitable 2nd fiddle roles. The cat and mouse battle between him and Swann should be interesting as he will not get sucked in and will inevitably firmly stand by his concentration and patience even if this means blocking out the maidens, picking the different trajectories and waiting until the rank bad ball arrives.
In the bowling department it can be none other than that mysterious, wizardry and unorthodox finger spinner. It’s as self explanatory as it gets. His ‘doosra’ or the other one can be unpickable, a variation disguised, controlled and executed expertly which turns, dips, cuts, jumps and bounces on the batsmen. Ajmal can also bowl the one skidding and shooting through out of the hand and a top spinner with revs, bite and bounce which he utilises a lot, especially when bowling from around the wicket to a typical right hander. Like any offie, the off break is the bread and butter delivery turning back into the right hander and going away from the left hander. Ajmal has top control over his off break which enables him to set up batsmen and insert pressure. He can also change his arm action and point of release either darting them in, slanting them in or holding them back. Ajmal also varies his grip and seam position to get a little extra on the ball and change his pace. It’s difficult to sweep and use your feet against him. Just occasionally he drops short and gets impatient, but by and large England would need to have done their home work to combat the threat of Ajmal and his magical kink. There is every chance he will be the series leading wicket taker. England will have his match winning spell at the Oval at the back of their minds where he bowled unchanged and tore the England batting apart with the disgraced Mohammad Amir and exploited their vulnerabilities against spin by gating the batsmen between bad and pad as if they were puzzled.