Sarfraz - 'I think Pakistan will struggle'
Sarfraz Nawaz, Pakistan's former Test opening bowler, has tipped England for victory in the forthcoming three-Test series, which gets underway at Multan on November 12, and has accused Pakistan's selectors of relying too heavily on ageing players with fading reputations and questionable fitness.
"I think Pakistan will struggle," Sarfraz told Cricinfo during England's opening warm-up fixture against a PCB Patron's XI in Rawalpindi. "I think England has the better chance because they have been playing more recently, and after winning the Ashes they will be full of confidence.
"The lack of match practice is something that has been concerning the Pakistan captain, coach and board officials," Sarfraz added. "The team hasn't played for a long time, and their lack of practice and physical fitness will help England to come out on top."
Pakistan's last international engagement was a two-Test tour of the Caribbean in June, and Sarfraz believes the selectors missed a trick by not trying out more of their 16-man squad during England's two warm-up matches at Rawalpindi and Lahore. "The PCB should have used these matches to test the physical condition of their players," he said. "A lot depends on Shoaib Akhtar. If he is fully fit, and if he can deliver what his captain wants, which is longer spells and faster, then England can worry. Otherwise I think England has a good chance."
Sarfraz was also critical of the selection of Mushtaq Ahmed and Arshad Khan, two players who featured unsuccessfully on England's last tour of Pakistan. "Arshad went to India for the last series and played a few Tests, but he has since gone downhill. And Mushtaq is too slow through the air and off the wicket. The batsmen have enough time to adjust their strokes and improvise. In a recent four-day match in Lahore, he took four wickets for over 150 runs, and that is not a good performance.
"These players are over-age," Sarfraz added. "They should have picked more young spinners to back up Danish Kaneria. He is sharper, younger and taller, and turns the ball faster through the air and off the wicket. He could cause some worries for England. Enough experiments have been done. Pakistan needs to be more positive and build for its future, rather than going back to older players."
Another factor that Sarfraz believed would count against Pakistan would be the state of the pitches. "No-one knows what sort of pitch will be prepared in Multan," he said, "but pitches in Pakistan are not as quick off the wicket as those we have seen in England. The English batsmen were worried by Shane Warne during the Ashes, but that was good practice for coping with right-arm legspinners. They can perform better after playing that series. Warne has so much variety, and Kaneria doesn't have that yet.
"England are a good allround side," Sarfraz concluded. "If there's a spinning pitch, [Ashley] Giles has been in good form - he made Australia worry during the Tests by bowling in longer spells and with good confidence. Meanwhile Abdul Razzaq, who is a similar player to Flintoff, is not fit, while Shabbir Ahmed has problems with his bowling action. England has a distinct advantage."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo