Pakistan bowling coach Azhar Mahmood revealed that left-arm pacer Mohammad Amir is fit to play in the final and has already been bowling in the nets.
Amir missed the semi-final against England on Wednesday due to back spasms during practice before the match. In his place, another left-arm pacer Rumman Raees made his debut to feature in the final eleven.
“Amir did bowl today, he is fit,” said Azhar while talking to journalists at The Oval. “We want to introduce a culture in Pakistan cricket where we should have bench strength. Like Amir could not play the last match but Raees came in for him. We want to ensure that we have players with the skill and ability to perform on any stage.”
When asked about the secret formula which has seen Pakistan bowlers turn a leaf since they shipped more than 300 runs in the opening game against India, Mahmood said the players have been working hard for some time now.
“It didn’t happen overnight. It took us almost six months. And there is still room for further improvement. The guys are willing to learn and they want to perform. All the credit goes to the bowlers; I haven’t done anything miraculous,” he said. “The guys took extra responsibility and showed courage. The way they responded to their critics and the way they fought back, it shows how much hard work they did in the last six months.”
Pakistan played and won their last two matches against Sri Lanka and England in Cardiff but Mahmood believes the weather at The Oval suits the team more.
“Oval is always a friendly pitch. It has played differently in the past three to four years. Like the India-Sri Lanka game, it was a true pitch. But at times, the ball stops on this pitch,” he explained.
“But both teams would want the weather to be warm. Both teams belong to the sub-continent so they’ll want the weather to not be cold. The ball also doesn’t swing in cold weather and bowlers’ hands get stiff so they find it difficult to swing the ball,” added Mahmood.
Pakistan were at the end of a heavy 124-run defeat against India in the tournament opener and Mahmood said it was not down to a lack of planning but rather the ineffective execution of it.
“We are going to play positive cricket against India in the final,” he said. “We made a lot of mistakes in that match and we received criticism for it too. We dropped the catches of Yuvi [Yuvraj Singh] and Virat [Kohli] and they are the kind of players who can take the game away from you. However, we are not going to take any pressure this time around. We are just going to play it like any other game.”
He continued: “The plans were there [against India] but the execution was lacking. In the other matches, the plans were executed and we won. We are hoping that this time [in the final] we’ll execute our plan successfully and the result will be different.”
While everyone was looking at Amir and the rest had their eyes on the returning Junaid Khan, young right-arm seamer Hasan Ali has stolen the show with 10 wickets — the highest in the tournament so far — and Mahmood could not help praising the 23-year-old.
“Hasan is one of the best bowlers in Pakistan’s lineup,” he said. “He is a wicket-taker. The way he comes in and takes wickets in the middle overs is good for the team. So now Pakistan have attacking options at the start and in the middle overs as well.”
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