It is safe to say that Pakistan have undone the damage of their Day 1 collapse against Kent by overpowering Northamptonshire in the follow-up tour game before today’s Test against Ireland – the hosts’ first ever, since getting Test status.
The nine-wicket win had everything that Pakistan could have asked for before an assignment that will be trickier than it looks on paper.
Building on from being Pakistan’s only half-century scorer – and half-decent run-getter – against Kent, Imam-ul-Haq scored a 59* in the fourth innings chase of 134, even though he could only manage 11 in the first innings.
However, Pakistan’s batting success story was based on the prolific run-getting of Haris Sohail and Asad Shafiq, who look like synthesising the middle order that Pakistan have needed since the gaping void created by the departure of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan.
Shafiq scored the match-winning 186* in Pakistan’s first innings, with Haris Sohail scoring 79 in the first followed by 55* in the second to take Pakistan home in the chase.
What was also positive was Babar Azam’s 57 in the first innings, meaning that Pakistan’s number 3, 4 and 5 were all among the runs.
Of course Pakistan would have liked Azhar Ali – the team’s leading batsman over the past couple of years – to get a few runs under the belt as well. But seeing four out of Pakistan’s top five among the runs would be encouraging for the team management.
Pakistan tried a different batting combination against Northamptonshire, with Sami Aslam dropping out and Imam joining Azhar up top, as Faheem Ashraf came in the lower-order. It would be interesting to see if Pakistan persist with the same – six batsmen, five bowlers – combination for Ireland.
Among the bowlers, the biggest success story was indeed Shadab Khan, who took a 10-for to put forward his claims to being a match-winning bowler in Tests as well. It was his six wickets in the first innings, which gave Pakistan a much-needed lead in the matchup, with the batsmen keeping the momentum, before Shadab struck again in Northants’ second innings.
In the second innings, Shadab’s 4-for was matched by Muhammad Abbas, who looked the sharpest among the pace bowlers. Rahat Ali bagged a couple of wickets in each innings as well.
Mohammed Amir’s continued lack of wickets would be worrying for Pakistan, and there’s a clear case for others being picked over him – especially if Pakistan go with a four-bowler attack.
Faheem Ashraf’s lack of purchase in both innings could mean Pakistan going back to seven bowlers and four batsmen, especially since he didn’t do much with the bat either.
It might be Ireland’s inaugural Test, but the match carries immense significance for Pakistan as well
While Imam is increasingly justifying his selection in the side, Haris Sohail is continuing on his good run of form, Asad Shafiq is back among the runs, and Shadab Khan appears to be a threat in the longest version of the game as well, the match at the end of the day was still a tour contest.
Starting today, Pakistan would be facing an Ireland side that have nothing to lose, and all to gain, with the equation the other way around for the visitors. The occasion might be historical because of what it means for Irish cricket, but the match carries immense significance for Pakistan as well.
It is the next chapter in the protracted transition phase in the post-MisYou era for Pakistan, following the sweet at ‘home’ against Sri Lanka in October. Pakistan need a convincing display against Ireland, following by being competitive against England in the two match series that would follow.
Any shock against Ireland would truly throw the cat among the pigeons for Pakistan in Test cricket.