Pakistan captain Azhar Ali praised his deputy Babar Azam ahead of the first Test of the three-match series against England at Old Trafford in Manchester; saying the latter is "already up there" in the elite league of superstars Virat Kohli and Steve Smith.

"Experts of the game are talking about it but I know he is not thinking about these comparisons and is just hungry for runs. If he continues that he will be up there for quite a long time," said Azhar comparing him to the Indian captain and Australian run machine.

Babar's performance in the five matches he has played over the past 12 months bears testament to his skipper's statement- the 25-year-old batsman has scored 615 runs at a mind-boggling average of 102.5.

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"His performance has improved massively in Tests over the last year or so. When people started thinking that he is a white-ball specialist, he took that as a challenge and began playing with a lot of freedom and flair," Azhar added. 

Azhar is aware that England might be better placed as the side has spent more time on the field since the resumption of international cricket but also added that his side is well prepared going into the match starting Wednesday. "The preparation for this Test match went well and for the past month we have been working really hard... Yes, you cannot replicate Test cricket in the practice games and sometimes you'll have to be the one who'll play second. England have played three Test matches, which is obviously good for them but that is no excuse in international cricket," said the 35-year-old.

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It has often been said that overseas batsmen tend to dread the English conditions. Although Azhar concurs with the statement, he feels the presence of experienced players and coaches in the side will help them tackle that adversity. "English conditions are quite tough for batting. With the Dukes ball and the weather... it swings around. But we have had that experience in the past. Babar, Asad (Shafiq) and I too have played in England before. We will try and perform and use that experience to our good. We have players and coaches like Younus Khan (batting coach) and Misbah-ul-Haq (head coach and chief selector) too who have played a lot of cricket in England," he said.

Azhar is confident about his young bowling unit as well and believes they have enough firepower to rattle the host. He sounded particularly optimistic about the 17-year-old Naseem Shah and called him his "number one choice."

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"Yeah, they are very talented. But obviously, they are not as experienced as some of Pakistan's other bowling attacks in the past. Potentially, they are right up there and I am sure they are very much ready because it has been really hard coming out of the lockdown and getting ready in five or six weeks' time... He (Naseem) is a young talent. He came up and played Test cricket from nowhere but I've been with him in the first-class team. He's impressed all of us and is our No 1 choice in bowling attack. Hopefully, he will be very good for us this series."



Pakistan Tour of England will be aired LIVE only on SONY SIX channels from 5th August 2020, 3.30 pm onwards.