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Pakistan 'mean business' after intense preparation

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Intikhab impressed by Mickey Arthur (2:37)

Pakistan team manager predict tight Test matches if Pakistan's batting fires. (2:37)

What may be the best-prepared team in Pakistan's history starts their tour in earnest in Taunton on Sunday.

Even before arriving in the UK three weeks ago, the squad had three weeks of training in Pakistan and are now, in the words of their team manager, Intikhab Alam, "definitely the fittest Pakistan team ever".

But their preparations extend far beyond boot camps with the army in Abbottabad and sessions with the Dukes ball in Hampshire. Pakistan have also spent time reflecting on their team dynamic and the off-field challenges that could confront them in England. The result is a side perhaps no more talented than the one that was beaten here in 2010, but one looking more disciplined, more focused and more united.

It is almost unheard of for teams to enjoy such preparation in this day and age. The nature of schedules is such that, very often, players fly from country to country without time to reflect, recover or plan.

But Pakistan have made a virtue of their misfortune. Considered surplus to requirement at the IPL, they instead gathered for training camps in Abbottabad and then Lahore. Unable to host lucrative home tours, they have instead spent several weeks training in low-key situations in England; they arrived on June 18 and first went to Hampshire, before moving on to Taunton. As Intikhab puts it: "they mean business."

Anticipating the sort of green, seaming surfaces that derailed Sri Lanka earlier this year and Australia last year, much of Pakistan's preparation has focused on playing - and exploiting - the moving ball. But Pakistan may well encounter a more benign environment. The wickets at Lord's, Old Trafford and The Oval have often, in recent years, provided helpful conditions for batsmen, which may not only negate England's seamers but bring Pakistan's spinners into play.

The Pakistan team will, almost certainly, contain six batsmen, the keeper Sarfraz Ahmed at No. 7, three seamers and Yasir Shah as spinner. Azhar Ali will complement Yasir's spin with legspin of his own. "He can be quite a handful," Intikhab says. "He will bowl some long spells."

Knowing that the burden on a four-man attack - with Azhar to top up - will be onerous, the focus on fitness has been greater than ever. Army officers, who once might have deferred to super-star players, pushed them hard in Abbottabad and they have undergone further strenuous tests since arriving in England.

"The bowlers have to be equally good in their third spell as their first," Intikhab said. "They are fit. They are definitely fitter than any Pakistan team ever. We had a boot camp in Abbottabad and then 10 days in Lahore. Then three weeks here.

"People were expecting a great deal from Mohammad Amir when he came back into the side. They were expecting miracles. But now, he has worked exceptional hard and got himself fit. He is ready."

"He is back to his full pace," Grant Flower, the team's batting coach, said. "And he is swinging it a lot. It's exciting to see.

"Fitness has been a huge factor. The guys had a hard training camp at an army camp in Pakistan and we've had a couple of fitness tests here. The guys are definitely fitter and you will see the results in the field. We have a new fielding coach - Steve Rixon - and the guys have had a real wake-up call regarding the fielding standards that are wanted."

The process of reconciliation between Amir and his team-mates has been equally planned and deliberate. It is no secret that Azhar and Mohammad Hafeez both protested his return but, through prolonged discussion, they now buy into his comeback. The division that marked the 2010 tour is, Intikhab believes, a thing of the past.

"Things have changed and this is a good thing," Intikhab said. "There is respect for each other and they want to play as a team and bring glory on their country.

"This message has been put across to all the players. They have to totally focus and be determined and believe in their abilities. This is working; the atmosphere in the dressing room is very good."

Both Flower and Intikhab believe the series may be decided by how Pakistan's batsmen adapt to English conditions. They are confident their attack has the potency to damage England; what is less proven is the ability to take advantage of that and record match-shaping total.

"I have always said we have the bowling resources to take 20 wickets," Intikhab said. "We can bowl England out twice.

"But if our batting clicks, we will have a very good chance of beating England. We have three experienced players in Misbah [ul-Haq], Younis [Khan] and Hafeez and Sarfraz at No. 7. If they play to their full potential and the wickets are as we expect, we have a very good chance. But we have to score 350-plus if we bat first."

"Adapting to the conditions is going to be a huge factor," Flower agreed. "We're working hard on it at the moment, both technically and mentally."

Can Pakistan win? With two of England's key men unlikely to be available for the first Test at least - James Anderson, who exploits English conditions better than anyone and Ben Stokes who lends balance to the side - and surfaces potentially negating England's home advantage, there is genuine confidence within the squad.

"If Yasir bowls to his full potential and we get decent weather, I think we'll see some very good Test matches," Intikhab said. "There is a lot of skill in the Pakistan team. We are confident."