• Five players to watch

    The first of three Test matches between England and Pakistan gets under way at Old Trafford on Wednesday. ANDRE HUISAMEN spotlights five players worth keeping an eye on throughout the series.

    Babar Azam

    The 25-year-old is knocking on the door of greatness and his talent has been a rare find for Pakistan cricket. Azam looks the real deal and already has 1,850 Test runs to his name in 26 matches at an average of 45.12. The right-hander knows how to work his way around the crease and isn’t afraid of taking his time to settle in. Once he hit his straps, he can be a difficult batsman to get rid off, which should make for a brilliant battle with the English seamers. He makes batting look easy and can be real class to behold – he will be integral in the Pakistan top order making a solid start with the bat.

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    Joe Root

    The captain’s return to the England team sparked a complete series turnaround against the West Indies and he once again demonstrated his value in their changing room. Root’s record against Pakistan is top-notch and he looks to be one of the main targets for the Pakistan bowlers. In the last nine Test matches between the two countries, Root has hit an impressive seven half-centuries, while his highest-ever score in red-ball cricket also came against Pakistan – back in 2016 when he struck 254, also at Old Trafford. Given the fair bit of unpredictability at the top of England’s batting order, Root will no doubt be looking to contribute some important knocks in this series.

    Naseem Shah

    At only 17 years old, Shah is one of the bright young talents to emerge as future superstars. In the four Test matches he has played so far, Shah made it no secret that he likes to bowl quick. With 90mph deliveries central to his arsenal, England are going to have to withstand a fierce attack that could exploit the Manchester pitch and conditions. Shah also has a hat-trick to his name already and has been hailed by his coach Misbah-ul-Haq as the ‘complete bowler.’ This series could prove to be a major stepping stone for his further development.

    Stuart Broad

    Broad’s rejuvenating performances against the West Indies set the cricketing world alight in recent weeks. Now he has been tipped to achieve even bigger and better things in Test cricket after becoming only the seventh bowler to reach 500 wickets in this format. His first test will be to lead the England attack against a Pakistan batting unit most likely a bit more firm in approach than the West Indies. Whoever Chris Silverwood decides to partner Broad with, the pace bowlers could ultimately determine the outcome of this whole series with rotation also set to be crucial again in the England bowling quarter.

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    Shaheen Afridi

    The other key part of a very exciting and young Pakistan pace attack. His surname suggests that he knows a thing or two about playing cricket, but Afridi has already developed his own set of expertise that’s slowly building him into something special. His 30 wickets in eight Test matches at an average of 27.96 has made his bowling ability seem effortless. The lanky left-armer gets a great deal of pace and bounce but will be eyeing consistent lengths against a somewhat vulnerable England top order.

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    Andre Huisamen