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Players' fitness, pink ball, Independence Day and fans' support

  • Urdu version is attached here

Fitness has been an important part of our strategy as a team since I took on the role of head coach last September and we have seen the benefits in the two Tests so far.

The players have taken ownership of their fitness levels and they should be given credit for that, especially after three months at home during the Covid-19 pandemic. They know having supreme fitness will help them to perform under pressure.

Mohammad Rizwan is a great example of that in the way he ran between the wickets and batted with the tail. Shan Masood also showed it in the first Test, batting for almost eight hours, and running really well with Shadab Khan. The way they stole quick singles is something that you don’t see much in Test cricket and certainly not from a Pakistan team. The partnership brought us back into the game in Manchester and it was purely down to fitness. Shadab is one of the fittest guys in our team.

Rizwan fought really hard so that we, at least, had a decent score to put a little bit of pressure on England. He showed glimpses in the first Test, when his wicketkeeping was also wonderful, and against Australia in Brisbane last November.

Rizwan has great game awareness and we’re really happy with the way he’s performing. It’s important that players, especially the new ones, show they can perform under pressure and his innings in Southampton will give him a lot of confidence.

It was always going to be difficult to fight back after what happened in Manchester but the players’ commitment and belief was outstanding.

It was another brave decision to bat first in the second Test given the conditions but everybody took on the challenge. Overall I’m really happy with the way the team batted. Everybody just tried to hang in and score runs. The partnerships involving Abid Ali, Azhar Ali and Babar Azam at the top of the order were really pleasing and encouraging, in testing conditions.

We expected the pitch to deteriorate towards the end of the match and it did. Even with just a couple of hours of sun at the end of the match, Yasir Shah was able to challenge the England batsmen.

The seamers also bowled really well and I was really happy with the way we finished the match. That last session, even as the game drifted towards a draw, gives us a lot of confidence going into the last Test. It’s a big game and we want to end the series on a good note.

There has been a lot of discussion about the way bad light affected this Test. In these unusual circumstances, there is room to debate these issues but the pink ball is very different to the red ball and I’m not sure that using it for a whole match – in daylight – is a good idea. I think most people prefer to see Test cricket played in the conventional way, which means with a red ball – that’s the beauty of the game.

It is always a special moment to celebrate Independence Day during a Test match and Pakistan has some great memories from previous such occasions in England: our first ever Test win in England in 1954 came just after the Independence Day, as did the famous win at Lord’s in 1982 and, from a personal point of view, our victory at The Oval in 2016 when we levelled the series on 14 August itself.

Playing on the Independence Day gives us extra motivation to perform for the nation and we wanted to give people the gift of victory. Hopefully we can deliver a late gift to the nation in the final Test and announce another Independence Day! Or, as coach, I can just announce that this is the month of Independence.

In testing times, the support from fans makes a huge difference to us. I’m happy the way the players have fought and we always need the support whether we win, lose or draw. Especially in these conditions, when there is no one in the ground, supporting comments on social media can really lift an individual player and the team.

We have the belief that we can come back in the final Test and it’s so important to us that Pakistan supporters back home and around the world share that belief with us.