Taufeeq Umar, the Pakistan opening batsman, has said that the upcoming Test series against World No. 1 England will be a tough one for his side despite their impressive recent run. Pakistan lost only one Test in 2011, and went through the year without a series loss, but Taufeeq admits that England will test their new-found resolve to the hilt.
"England have been performing very well and their team combination is a very strong one with all of their players in good form," Taufeeq told PakPassion.net. "We saw last summer in England, when India was touring there, just what a powerful team England are. The series will undoubtedly be a very competitive and tough one for Pakistan. I think that in order for Pakistan to defeat England we will have to play above our level of ability."
Taufeeq made just 18 runs in his only Test against England, in 2006, and was dropped for four years following that failure. He, however, insists that things will be different this time. "I've played just the one Test match against England at Headingley, which was not a memorable occasion, but I feel that I am in good form, and I'm really looking forward to playing against England and will look to perform well."
Taufeeq expects the bowlers to hold the key in the series, which will be played on flat tracks in the UAE, in conditions that England aren't very used to. "My cricketing experience over the years has taught me that a world-class bowler will perform well on any surface," Taufeeq said. "The England bowling line-up is a world-class one and they know how to bowl in the conditions they will encounter in the UAE. They will be fully prepared and totally aware of what adjustments they need to make to counter the conditions. Their bowling attack has played in the subcontinent previously so it's not as if they are going out there for the first time. However, we played really well against South Africa and Sri Lanka in the UAE and if we play to our potential we can give England a hard time."
Taufeeq has been integral to Pakistan's resurgence after the team had a controversy-marred 2010. He returned to the side in November that year, and went on to forge a highly successful opening partnership with Mohammad Hafeez. Since his return, Taufeeq has made 968 runs in 12 Tests with three centuries, including a maiden double-ton against Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi - an innings he terms the best of his career.
"There was a lot of pressure on me in November 2010 when I made my comeback," Taufeeq said. "I think you feel more pressure when you are making a comeback than you do when you are making your international debut. I'm really satisfied with the way things have gone for me since my comeback and it was really pleasing to be Pakistan's top-scorer in Tests in 2011. I'm really proud of this achievement but most importantly it meant that my performance helped the team perform well through the year."
Taufeeq's advent and Hafeez's sparkling run have given Pakistan a stable opening pair - a luxury they have not enjoyed since the days of Saeed Anwar and Aamer Sohail. "The right- and left-handed opening combination isn't always easy for the opposition bowling attack and we enjoy batting with each other," Taufeeq said. "The fact that we get on very well off the field also helps, and that friendship and relationship carries onto the field when we bat together. We are both really proud that we have created a Pakistan record of opening the innings on 23 consecutive occasions and I firmly believe that when you are given an extended run in the team that builds one's confidence."
Taufeeq lauded Pakistan's selectors for sticking with the core of their Test line-up through the year. "Consistency in selection is absolutely imperative; in order to fully assess a cricketer you have to give that individual a proper and decent chance to establish himself and perform. Give the team a run of matches, let the combination settle and then see if the personnel is right. I feel that the selectors deserve credit for their approach at the moment."
Taufeeq's style fits well with captain Misbah-ul-Haq's measured approach to batting, a philosophy also evident in the way Younis Khan, Azhar Ali and Misbah himself go about their innings. Taufeeq was full of praise for Misbah' leadership after being handed the reins following the spot-fixing scandal.
"Misbah sets the example for the rest of us to follow and the team's recent success is largely down to his efforts. Misbah's attitude with all of his team-mates, on and off the field, is very professional and very friendly, and all the boys feel very comfortable with him. The atmosphere off the field is one of friendship between the players and Misbah, which is very important as I feel it helps matters on the field."
The Pakistan team will have a training camp from January 4 in Lahore before leaving for the UAE. The first Test against England will begin on January 17 in Dubai.