It will be a dream realised for Imam-ul-Haq, should he make his Test debut as expected this week. Growing up and hoping to emulate his uncle, former Pakistan captain and now chief selector, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Imam wanted to play Tests for his country – even if he did not expect his first to be in Ireland.
Imam has already played four ODIs, scoring a century on debut against Sri Lanka last year, and he is set to slot into the top three of the Test side. In two warm-up matches over the past fortnight, Imam, 22, has scored two half-centuries – 61 against Kent and 59* against Northamptonshire. Now he hopes to provide some batting fibre in a side that has struggled somewhat since the retirement of two Pakistan greats last year.
“It’s a very proud feeling,” Imam said. “Everybody knows that Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan have just retired and our young guys have to do a lot of work. It’s always good to come and prove a point, and we’re looking forward to this series. I have been scoring runs in the two four-day matches and that gives me confidence. I’m very hopeful that I’ll do well in this series.
“Obviously it will be my first Test match, my first pressure match. I will be very nervous, I won’t lie – that’s what we play for, that’s my dream since I grew up, to play Test cricket for your country. I didn’t think I would play my first Test match in Ireland, so it’s different but as a sportsman you have to be ready for everything.”
Malahide will be the scene for not only Imam’s Test bow, but that of the Ireland men’s team. Granted Test status last year, Ireland will welcome Pakistan as their first five-day opponents, looking to revive memories of the famous 2007 World Cup upset at Sabina Park.
“I remember that match, it was a very big day for Ireland cricket and a very sad day for Pakistan,” Imam said. “But in sport, these things happen. On the same day, India lost as well against Bangladesh, so we were happy. Jokes apart, it was a sad day for Pakistan as a nation, so hopefully we’ll get our own back by winning the Test.
“They are playing their first Test match, so we want to give them good luck, it’s very good for Irish cricket. We hope they will play good and be a very good side in future.”
While Ireland will go into the Test as firm underdogs – a position Pakistan often revel in – Mickey Arthur’s team will have to guard against complacency. Pakistan briefly topped the Test rankings in 2016, after drawing 2-2 with England, but have since slipped to No. 7 in the world and will be hoping to avoid an ambush in what could be challenging conditions for batting.
“Cricket is a funny game and you can’t take any side lightly,” Imam said. “We have to do our best, and we have to prove a point and win the game. It doesn’t matter, against Ireland or England, we have to play good cricket and that will give us confidence, and make our youngsters to do well in the England series. The conditions are difficult, as you see the rain and the wicket will be tough because it’s early [summer] here.
“It’s a very young side Test cricket is different, you need patience over here and it tests your fitness as well. Back home we had a very tough camp, so we are very hopeful and very excited. We’re hoping to do something very special here inshallah.”
While Pakistan’s opening tour game was a soggy affair at Kent, they show some impressive form to brush aside Northamptonshire by nine wickets on Monday. Asad Shafiq’s 186 was the highlight, while Shadab Khan claimed a ten-wicket haul, and Imam said the players were confident of rising to the occasion.
“We’ve been working hard, as a subcontinent nation it’s difficult to perform over here in England and Ireland. We’ve had two very good four-day matches, the guys were working hard and talking to our batting coach. There are personal goals there, we’re working on it and inshallah we’ll do well.”