ABU DHABI: Pakistan’s chances of defeating England in Tuesday’s opening Test match in Abu Dhabi suffered a blow on Monday when key leg-spinner Yasir Shah suffered a back spasm during practice.
The 29-year-old Shah stumbled in his follow-through and apparently hurt his back.
“Yasir’s injury is a concern and could be a jolt,” skipper Misbah-ul-Haq told a press conference on Monday. “We are looking into it and hope that he is okay by tomorrow morning.”
Pakistan are relying heavily on Shah and fellow left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar to win the three-match series in the United Arab Emirates.
Shah took 24 wickets in Pakistan’s 2-1 win in the Tests in Sri Lanka in July and was seen as the dangerman for England, who were routed 3-0 by spinners Saeed Ajmal and Abdul Rehman here in 2012.
“Obviously he (Shah) is a key player for us but we are hoping for the best,” said Misbah. “We are looking into calling one of the two left-arm spinners who played in the warm-up game in Sharjah.”
Pakistan are already without key batsman Azhar Ali, ruled out of the match with a foot infection. His place is likely to go to Shoaib Malik, who has not played a Test for five years.
Azhar’s absence will put more pressure on Younis Khan, Misbah and Sarfraz Ahmed to shoulder the batting.
Younis amassed 468 runs against Australia and hit a match-winning 171 not out in Pakistan’s last Test in Sri Lanka, leaving him just 19 behind Pakistan’s highest tally of 8,832 set by Javed Miandad.
Pakistan have been forced to play in the UAE due to security fears at home but have never lost a series here, winning four and drawing three.
Misbah admitted England are more prepared this time.
“I think they are more prepared and know what mistakes they committed the last time so we need to also focus and improve our performance. We have to be at our best to be up there.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s cricketer convert commentator Rameez Raja, tweeted “As Yasir Shah is unlikely to perform in the first test, Zafar Gohar will join the team today as cover.”
England skipper Alastair Cook admitted Shah’s loss could be crucial for Pakistan.
“You never know with these things,” said Cook. “Of course it would be a loss for them. As always, the day before a big series we’re concentrating on matters which are important to us.”
“He is clearly a fantastic bowler who not many of us have faced. He’s had a good start to his Test career,” said Cook of Shah.
England were also hit by injury to paceman Steven Finn, who took four wickets in the second warm-up game, also in Sharjah.
“It’s a bitter blow for him, he bowled really well in that warm-up match,” said Cook. “Over the last 12 months he’s made huge strides back to where we would like him to be.”
England’s answer to Pakistan’s spin challenge will likely be underwhelming. Leg-spinner Adil Rashid is set to make his Test debut, six years after playing his first one-day international.
Moeen Ali is favourite to play as opener in a makeshift arrangement, with additional duties of bowling off-spin, despite never having opened the innings even in a first-class match.
If that happens, Moeen will be Cook’s seventh partner since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012.
Joe Root and Ben Stokes — England’s leading performers with the bat — will be tested against quality spin.
Dubai will host the second Test (October 22-26), with the final match in Sharjah (November 1-5).