Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan's Test captain, has said it is important for the players to apply themselves and not get overawed by the conditions on their tour of England, where they play four Test matches, five ODIs and a one-off T20 international.
Pakistan left for England from Lahore on Saturday morning, determined not to stir the memories from their previous tour, in 2010, when Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were mixed up in the spot-fixing scandal.
Pakistan last played a Test seven months ago in the UAE, against the same opposition. Since then many of their players, including Misbah, have been idle for a large portion of time, though players like Sarfraz Ahmed, Amir and Wahab Riaz have played in limited-overs cricket. From the current touring party, only Azhar Ali, Amir and Wahab Riaz were a part of the squad that travelled in 2010. The inexperience has led to former players being sceptical of how they will fare, but Misbah exuded confidence on the eve of the team's departure.
"This is true that it will be a challenging series, but, overall, we have experience of playing good cricket irrespective of the conditions, and that is what we are confident about," he said. "Our batters have scored enough runs ... they all have done well in Test cricket, so I don't see how it [the inexperience in English conditions] will make much of a difference.
"We only have to apply ourselves, have to fight, and these boys love challenges. This is another challenge for them and they are ready for it. Nothing is easy and each time we have to fight it out to win, so this is yet another task for the boys. If we succeed in scoring around 350 runs in a Test [innings], we will have bright chances of winning. Our bowling attack is also outstanding and it has the ability to destroy even the strongest of batting line-ups. We need to be focused and should not get overawed by English conditions. I see the tour as a big opportunity for our players to prove their mettle and play their due role in Pakistan's victory."
Pakistan have not won a Test series in England in 20 years, after their 2-0 triumph in 1996 under the leadership of Wasim Akram. Both their previous tours ended in defeats - 0-3 in 2006 and 1-3 in 2010. Including their first tour, in 1954, Pakistan have played 13 Test series in England and have won three, consecutively between 1987 and 1996. England have won seven, while three were drawn.
Pakistan arrive in England as the No. 3-ranked team in the world, one place above England. Pakistan will have a two-week conditioning camp in Hampshire, before they formally begin their tour with a three-day practice match against Somerset from July 3. Misbah said it was important to focus on the cricket and not let the unsavoury moments of the past affect them.
"It indeed is a tough series, but the easy way to deal with this tour is to just focus on your game," Misbah said. "We don't have to look around and there is no need to peep into the past, otherwise you will never move ahead. Just believe in your training, your practice and enjoy your cricket. This is the only way to keep away from controversies.
"It's not like Pakistan never played well in England conditions. No doubt they are good in their own conditions and very familiar with their venues, but we have a chance. Bowling is our strength and we are also coming with a winning state of mind. So we have an opportunity to do our best and it's hope that keeps you alive, otherwise you can't do anything."
With Amir set to play his first Test in more than five years, Misbah backed him to come out of the shadow of the spot-fixing controversy. After serving a five-year ban, Amir, who was the Man of the Series in 2010, has become an automatic selection, allowing him to resume his Test career and pick up from where he left off at Lord's. "Whatever happened in past is gone, but it has resulted in some solid life lessons for him," Misbah said. "He has changed, and now he has an opportunity to prove himself as a bowler and as a person as well.
"So performance is the only way he can reintegrate himself with the England fans and he can do it. He is mentally strong and can handle pressure, and I expect him to play an important role in Pakistan's victory."