Pakistan will keep a close eye on England's three-match Test series against West Indies next month. This, according to their opener Abid Ali, will help Pakistan prepare for their own tour of England, which kicks off soon after West Indies' visit. This will be Abid's first tour of England, and he is already preparing to cut out some of his shots in conditions that are expected to favour seam bowling.
"In a way the series between England and West Indies is going to help us in our preparation," Abid said. "England didn't start their domestic season [as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic] and their pitches haven't been used, so we don't know what to expect [from the conditions] this time, which is why the West Indies series is important for us to look at.
"We can learn a lot, take a lot out of it, and it will also give us a pretty good idea how the conditions will play. This is my first tour with Pakistan but I have played league cricket there for 3-4 years and have some idea. We haven't played cricket [as a team] for quite some time but [going to England] a month in advance with a very experienced coaching staff and the knowledge from the West Indies series is going to make a big difference in our readiness."
Pakistan last played a Test in February, and a few of the red-ball specialists played competitive cricket during the PSL in March. Since then, all the national and domestic players have been confined to their homes, and while they have worked on their fitness, they have been broadly inactive due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The PCB scrapped plans for a four-week training session in a bio-secure environment, due to a major spike in the coronavirus cases in the country.
A 29-man Pakistan touring party with 14 officials will arrive in England on July 1. The tourists will spend five weeks training before playing a series of three Test matches, with the first Test in Manchester from August 5 to 9, and the second and third Tests in Southampton.
Abid admitted that three months in lockdown have had some impact on him, mentally, but said he would work on that aspect in England as well as his skills. ESPNcricinfo has learned that Abid lost his uncle to the coronavirus in April. He didn't attend the funeral to avoid any possible exposure to the virus, and was forced to stay at home and mourn privately. He later took to Twitter to urge people to stay at home and take the coronavirus seriously.
"With the circumstances around coronavirus, it's mentally tough as we can't keep our mind of it but we have to adapt ourselves," Abid said. "It is indeed a challenge playing England in England and with the coronavirus it's a bit tough as well. But we are professional players, we understand that we have to strengthen our mindset and live with the fact that life is going on. This [coronavirus] is not going away soon so we have to live with it and focus on playing cricket. Once we get back on the ground it will be easy for us to take our thoughts away [from the pandemic]. It's great that we are touring England, we are confident to start again and we will try hard to give our best."
Abid played nearly 12 years of domestic cricket before getting his chance to play Test cricket at the age of 32. He made an immediate impact, however, with an unbeaten century on debut against Sri Lanka in Rawalpindi and lighting up the historic occasion of Pakistan hosting a Test match for the first time in ten years. He followed up with a 174 in his second Test in Karachi, and currently averages 107 after three Test matches. Earlier in the year, Abid had scored a century on his ODI debut as well - he is the only player to have achieved the feat in both Tests and ODIs.
"I made an impressive start by the grace of Allah," Abid said. "I had a good start but that is in the past now and I want to look ahead. Being a professional player I want to be ready any possible way. Unfortunately we didn't get to practise outside and missed cricket in these last few months, but I am ready. Over the last one year, the the pressure of expectations has elevated a lot, but then the pressure is everywhere, what important is how you handle it and then how you work on your mental growth.
"With bigger opportunities you also work on raising your game to face the best bowlers in the world and prepare yourself. I have individual targets and have made small plans and hope to execute them one by one. I know playing in England is challenging and their bowlers are great but I am watching the ball, not the bowlers. I love to play shots all around [the ground] but it's not necessary that I am going to play all my shots there. I want to score runs and people like Misbah [ul-Haq, the head coach] and Younis [Khan, the batting coach] in the coaching staff are going to help me to pick my scoring shots."
When asked about the prospect of playing in front of empty stands, Abid pointed to Pakistan's Tests in the UAE as well as domestic first-class cricket back home - both of which are largely played in front of sparse crowds - and said players still find a way to motivate themselves.
"For Pakistan empty stadium doesn't count, but it may effect England," he said. "Pakistan played for 10 years in empty stadiums, and even the first-class games we play with zero crowd, so we are used to it. But yes, we have a big following in England that comes to stadiums to support us and we are going to miss them, but it's beyond our control. Coronavirus has affected everyone everywhere. So for the sake of fans' own self these are the safety precautions, but they can still watch us on TV."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent