Ireland vs Pakistan: Imam-ul-Haq all set for Test debut
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Imam-ul-Haq, the nephew of former Pakistan captain and current PCB chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq, is set to make to his Test debut, against Ireland in the one and only Test match of the series, on Friday the 11th of May. The match has its own significance - it is Ireland's first ever Test match after being granted Test status by the ICC around a year ago.
The left-handed batsman was in fine form in the two warm-up games that Pakistan played versus Kent and Northamptonshire, scoring a couple of fifties. "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 and step up. 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 the 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."
In case you didn't know...
Imam burst onto the scene during the U-19 Asia Cup in 2012. The pressure of being the nephew of the great Inzamam was the first of many challenges he had to cope with in his maiden series. Imam, however, put all that to bed immediately, with an 88 in his first game against India U-19, at a very young age of 16.
Known for his flamboyant stroke-play, Imam is a left-handed middle-order batsman and represents Lahore in the domestic circuit. He maintains a decent average of 35.61, having scored 1923 runs including four tons and 11 fifties, in 36 matches so far.
Azhar Ali's injury before the start of the ODI series against Sri Lanka in October 2017, in the UAE, finally provided Imam with an opportunity to prove his worth. He debuted in the third ODI in Abu Dhabi and anchored a successful run-chase, cracking his maiden international ton while at it. Imam has played four ODIs so far, scoring 149 runs at a strike rate of 73.4 and an average of 49.67, his highest score being the 100 he scored on debut.
When Ireland take on Pakistan in Dublin, the home side will be embarking on a new journey - the country's inaugural Test match. The first time the two faced each other was at Kingston in the 2007 ODI Cricket World Cup, when the Irish caused a major upset by defeating Pakistan. Since then, the two teams have played six times against each other, with Pakistan winning on five occasions while one was a tied game.
"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," Imam stated.
Pakistan were ranked No. 1 in the longest format of the game in 2016. However, since then, they have slipped in the rankings and are now placed a lowly seventh. Apart from Ireland, Pakistan will be facing England in two Test matches which will also feature Imam in the lineup, between late May and early June. They will then head to South Africa for three Test matches, in late December.
It was a much-appreciated decision by the ICC to grant Test status to Ireland and Afghanistan, who have been the most consistent performers among the Associate Nations over the years. While India host Afghanistan at the Chinnaswamy on the 14th of June, it is a wonderful coincidence that their neighbours have taken up the opportunity to give the other team (Ireland) a chance to play their first ever Test match.
The pressure will certainly be on the likes of Imam, Babar Azam and Azhar Ali. It will be Imam's first Test match, and apart from the pressure of playing his debut Test, eyes will be on him because of the reputation of his uncle, Inzamam, one of the stalwarts of Pakistan cricket in his time.