Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent
ZIM v WI (1)
Super Smash (1)
BPL 2023 (2)
Ranji Trophy (1)
WI 4-Day (2)
Pakistan had often been criticised for their slow scoring rate whenever they played Test cricket in the UAE. In the 31 Tests they played there over the past decade, they scored at under three runs an over. However, since bringing Test cricket back home, Pakistan's scoring rate has suddenly jumped to 3.76 in three matches.
In the first Test against Bangladesh, Pakistan scored 445 in 122.5 overs, at 3.62 runs per over, winning the contest by an innings and 44 runs. Pakistan captain Azhar Ali attributed this spike in the scoring rate to the difference in pitches in the UAE and at home. He also said that the nature of wickets in Pakistan will help their batsmen score big runs and boost their confidence when they travel abroad.
"We played a lot in the UAE and, during that period, people discussed about the slow scoring rate all the time. Despite our numerous explanations, nobody understood that pitches there were very slow and containing the batsmen was quite easy for any bowling side. There we have to play with patience, but the conditions are different here [in Pakistan]. The outfield is quicker and as a result, the score moves fast, so I think our players will score big once settled.
"The more runs you have under your belt, the higher your confidence is and you have a greater chance to perform well in the next series. And we have that quality in our batting."
After a span of more than ten years, Test cricket returned to Pakistan only as recently as two months ago with Sri Lanka touring for two matches and Bangladesh following them. While it is a time to rejoice for the fans, Pakistan are looking to strengthen their position on the World Test Championship points table.
Currently, India are at the top with 360 points from three series, with Pakistan sitting in fourth place with 140 points and one home game against Bangladesh left. After that, they travel to England and New Zealand before hosting South Africa next year.
"Because of the Test Championship, every match is important and so is the next Test match in this series," Azhar said. "While Tests both at home and away are equally significant, the home games are more important because the probability to get points is higher. And that [the positive results] also boosts you up when you have a tougher series away.
"We will play the Championship final only when we win the difficult series in England and New Zealand. Overall at the end the day, whether it's home or away, we have to do well because the top two teams [India and Australia] are winning everything and earning points continuously."
The recent Test retirements of Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz had left Pakistan in a situation where they were forced to rebuild their pace attack with young and inexperienced options. But Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah have shown great promise since then: Shaheen has stepped up to play a leading role alongside Mohammad Abbas while Naseem became the youngest bowler to take a Test hat-trick, this on the back of also being the youngest fast bowler to take a Test five-wicket haul.
"It's really a wonderful sign," Azhar said. "Obviously we were worried and people were also talking who would step up [after the retirements of Amir and Wahab]. When I became captain, people did ask me about this, and I had said 'when we come across such a situation, with new opportunities opening up, fresh faces will step up'.
"So these two Shaheen Afridi and Naseem Shah got the opportunity and both grabbed it with both hands. Shaheen was earlier playing mainly one-dayers, but I always told him that he was the one to lead the attack. And I am impressed by how he made red-ball cricket his priority. He is not only determined to do well in this format but is also tagging along Naseem with him. They have pace, and they know how to utilise the conditions and how to remain fit, and in Abbas there is already a senior bowler.
"So this is something which is going to encourage other bowlers and is an example for them to come forward, perform so that a sense of competition gets developed. Watching them I hope other fast bowlers also take inspiration and do well. Fast bowlers are so important for us because we have away series in those conditions where fast bowler will make a difference."