As England take on Pakistan in the first match of the Test series at Lord's, all eyes will be on Pak pacer Mohammad Amir. Life will come a full circle for the pace bowler when he steps on to the hallowed turf. It was here that he, along with Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt self-destructed and caused irreparable damage to their careers. Back then, no one would have imagined that Amir would be back in the scheme of things a few years later. But life, just like cricket, is unpredictable. And so, Amir is back, and hopefully for good. He showed glimpses of form in the practice game, but it remains to be seen how he handles the pressure on the big day.
Pakistan will have a tough task as they are taking on a rampant England side who demoralised Sri Lanka without much trouble. The visitors may heave a sense of relief at the news that James Anderson along with all-rounder Ben Stokes has been ruled out of the opening Test due to injury. But, that still isn't a big enough reason for them to relax. England still have Stuart Broad, who is an equally dangerous bowler in the longer format of the game. Playing without Anderson seems to get the best out of Broad. At Trent Bridge last year, he dismantled Australia with sensational figures of 8 for 15. Broad will be keen to begin the new series on a high.
Although England won comprehensively against Sri Lanka, they still have a few issues to deal with. With Nick Compton being dropped following a horrid run against the Lankans, Gary Ballance has earned a recall. The change is definitely for good, but England would hope they don't have to do too much chopping and changing as it may affect the rhythm of the team. In other words, England will be seeking balance from Ballance. Also, the injury to both Anderson and Stokes means that England will have a debutant for sure. It could be either Jake Ball or Toby Roland-Jones. Again, Pakistan would be looking at an opportunity there. Last but not the least, while the think tank would be pleased with Alex Hales' form, they would be desperate for a ton from him.
As mentioned earlier, all eyes will be on Amir when Pakistan take the field. They cannot be distracted by the significance of the occasion. After all, there is a bigger picture of a Test match to be won. Pakistan themselves have a few match-winners of their own, who will be keen to deliver once again. The ageless duo of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan keep scoring runs, and will be key to Pakistan's fortunes as always. In Asad Shafiq, they have another form batsman. But, Pakistan will be worried over the opening pair of Mohammad Hafeez and Shan Masood, for they haven't been consistent enough for the team's liking.
Unlike in 2010, when Amir was just a blossoming talent, the left-arm pacer will this time be expected to lead the attack. From what has been on show since his return to international cricket, Amir is definitely up for the challenge. But, there are a few other bowlers who will also be keen to deliver. Wahab Riaz is now the seniormost bowler in the side, and will have additional responsibility of getting wickets. Then there is Sohail Khan as well, who can be a handful on his day. In the spin department, it will be up to Yasir Shah to unsettle the English.
--By A Cricket Analyst