Amir and Asif are best in the world - Butt
For the full interview with Salman Butt click here
Salman Butt, the Pakistan captain, has praised his new-ball pair, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, as the best opening duo the world ahead of the Test series against England following their performances which earned a 1-1 draw with Australia.
Although Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, South Africa's quick bowlers, can lay their own claim to be the leading strike force in the game, Pakistan's combination have certainly made a huge impression in recent weeks and will be a major threat when they take on England at Trent Bridge. Asif and Amir shared 22 wickets in the two-Test series against Australia and were both outstanding during Pakistan's three-wicket victory at Headingley, their first win against Australia for 15 years.
Amir has gained praise from former great fast bowlers including Wasim Akram, while Asif has shown tremendous skill in controlling the swing even though he has lost pace in recent years. They have enjoyed bowling in overcast conditions, but are also capable of extracting reverse swing which could play a part against England.
"The way Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul bowled was brilliant," Butt told Cricinfo. "Without any doubt I can say that Amir and Asif are the best pair in the world at the moment and Gul with the old ball is the most dangerous because he bowls the best reverse swing that I've played in recent times. I am a lucky person to have such an armoury and they are Pakistan's trump card in Pakistan's successes in the recent past and for a long time in the future."
However, one of the key challenges facing Pakistan is to ensure their pace bowlers remain fit during a demanding schedule which will extend to six Test in six weeks once the England series concludes at the end of August. Although they have reserves in the squad, if either Asif or Amir are unable to play a match it will have a severe impact on Pakistan's chances.
"We will be talking to the bowlers. We have to look after each other," Butt said. "But if somebody is feeling tired, disheartened, or if he feels there is any injury scare he can always come out and speak to me and the seniors. It is not only me, but the seniors and the team management who will sit and decide. It is not only this series but with the World Cup fast approaching we definitely have that, too, at the back of our minds so we will preserve key people but at the same time in the big games - Tests - we need to play our best team and plan accordingly."
Pakistan's bowlers are without doubt their most dangerous asset because the batting remains hugely inexperienced with much resting on Butt himself. Umar Akmal's performances against Australia suggested he has yet to realise the requirements of Test cricket, but Azhar Ali showed promise at No. 3 with a vital 51 during the tense run chase at Headingley.
"He is a wonderful prospect," Butt said. "He plays his cricket in his limits. He knows his shots, his scoring areas. In the four innings so far, three times he got out a very good ball which any good batsman might have found hard to negotiate as well. Azhar is a very good talent and if he can carry on this way he has the ability to stabilise the Pakistan batting. He proved that during the fourth innings at Headingley where he showed great temperament and resolve against the Aussies as well as a good technique in tough conditions.
"But you should not forget Imran Farhat's contribution," Butt added. "He kept the scoring rate high and kept hitting the boundaries at the other end, which helped Azhar to not take pressure. So, full credit to Imran, who built the crucial partnership with Azhar in the run chase."