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‘Adapting to conditions key to Pakistan’s chances in England’


KARACHI: Former chief selector Salahuddin Ahmed Sallu said on Saturday that Pakistan must adapt to English conditions as quickly as possible if they want to challenge Alastair Cook’s side on an equal footing in the four-match Test series, starting on July 14 at Lord’s.

Expressing his views on the 22 players shortlisted by new chairman of the national selection committee, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Sallu observed in the given circumstances the best possible choices have been made despite question marks over the fitness of experienced opener Mohammad Hafeez and leg-spinner Yasir Shah.

“Basically, team selection is always a thankless job. The committee in power forms its own policy. This has been the trend in Pakistan cricket for years. In our times it was more or less the same,” Sallu told Dawn in an exclusive interview.

“Generally, the criterion for selection is based on form [of the players] but, more importantly, utmost consideration is given to the playing conditions where the team has to tour. Besides, the selections are made in consensus with the collective inputs of captain and coach.

“Therefore, you must ensure players with the skills to perform in certain conditions are preferred and if you have batsmen who are very good at playing seam bowling, then that’s a huge plus point for the team touring England.

“Likewise, the same thinking applies to the bowlers as well. The conditions in places like England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are a big contrast to those we generally get here in the subcontinent or in the West Indies. The pace and bounce of the pitches vary in each country. In England, the Duke-brand balls move laterally compared to other countries.”

Sallu pointed that alien conditions are main reasons that Pakistan like other visiting teams from Asia struggle in England and lack of enough practice matches make their task difficult.

“Playing against England in England isn’t that easy and even Australia found the conditions extremely tough on their last two Ashes trips. In modern times, touring teams don’t get enough matches to the start or during the Test series to get acclimatise. In the old days, itinerary had at least six to seven first-class fixtures against counties to prepare for the Test series,” he stressed.

“Those side games were a tremendous help to the players, with most of them, on their first tour of England. By the time the series came around, the boys had gained enough experience of the conditions.

“Players who were struggling had a chance to improve by their skills in those less pressure matches. In the 1970s,
we had a number of our top stars playing on the county circuit and that was a great learning experience for them.”

Sallu said the fitness level of players must have impr­oved in the two-week boot camp at the Pakistan Milit­ary Academy in Kakul which concluded on Friday.

“You need such camps to make the players realise the importance of fitness in any sport. Cricket demands top fitness as well as skill levels. If fitness level is below the required standards, the player wouldn’t be able to performance at the top of his skill consistently,” he emphasised.

“The reason why people like Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan have been performing at the top level for so long is quite simple: they are among the fittest lot despite catching on in years. You need other players to emulate and learn from them how to prolong playing career.

“Both Younis and Misbah are have served Pakistan with great distinction chiefly because they have looked after themselves very well and remained focussed on the game like true professionals.”

Commenting on Sri Lanka’s heavy defeat in last week’s first Test that lasted just three days at Head­ingley, Sallu admitted the void created by retirements of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene has left a gaping hole in the team.

“Obviously, they have been found wanting most of the times since they are lacking world-class players that Sangakkara and Jaya­wardene were. In this Sri Lankan side, only Angelo Mathews has the skills to play in English conditions, but even he found the going very tough in the first Test,” he said.

“The early period of English season is tough for all touring teams because the conditions are often damp and heavy and ball does a lot. The Sri Lankan batsmen were up against two very fine bowlers in James Anderson and Stuart Broad who are virtually unplayable in favourable conditions.

“It would take time for young Sri Lankan batsmen to hone the skills of combating such type of bowling in an unfamiliar environment. But I feel Pakistan will cope better than Sri Lanka since the series is in the second half of the English summer,” underlined Sallu.

“In fact, if the pitches are on the drier side then even Yasir [if he is fully fit and in form] would have a big part to play.
And being a leg-spinner, Yasir would get bounce and turn as well, particularly from the bowlers’ rough created by left-arm pace bowlers who generally operate on the over-the-wicket line. He could be Pakistan’s trump card in the series,” Sallu hoped.

“My advice to Pakistan players that they should watch the England vs Sri Lanka series closely to get a fair idea of how they would be playing there when their series begins.”