DUBAI: Australian coach Darren Lehmann said Wednesday Pakistan remain tough opponents despite the loss of offspinner Saeed Ajmal, thanks to their ability to unearth exciting new talent in big series.
His comments came as the two sides prepare to face off in the United Arab Emirates, with a single Twenty20 on Sunday followed by three one-dayers and two Tests.
For Pakistan, it is the first series in five years without Ajmal named in the squad, after the talismanic bowler was suspended for chucking last month as part of a crackdown by the International Cricket Council (ICC).
In addition to being ranked the world’s best bowler in one-day cricket, Ajmal is also the highest wicket-taker in T20s, with 85 scalps.
But Lehmann said Pakistan had a history of finding new prospects.
“We can’t be worried too much what’s going on with Pakistan, who they are putting, we have studied their side but history shows they always manage to pull some very good players from somewhere, young players, so they have got some exciting talent.”
Pakistan’s T20 squad includes uncapped leg spinner Saad Nasim, while slow left-armer Raza Hasan returns after an almost two-year absence.
The UAE has been Pakistan’s de facto home since 2009 when a terror attack targeting the Sri Lankan team bus in Pakistan resulted in the loss of international cricket.
It has proven a relatively happy hunting ground, with Pakistan famously registering a 3-0 Test victory over England in 2012.
Former Australia batsman Lehmann said: “We know it’s a tough opposition and they play very well here, so for us we have to be at the top of our game.”
Speaking to the media after the team’s first training session, Lehmann said the players were doing their best to acclimatise to the stifling desert heat as the mercury rose to 36C (100F) Wednesday.
“Heat, yeah it’s hot,” he said. “But in the game of cricket and playing in the summer most of the times it’s always pretty warm so we have been trying to acclimatise getting into the fitness and training side of it. And it takes guys a couple of days to get over it but once you are in a contest you get over it.”
Pakistan’s T20 captain Shahid Afridi, speaking to reporters in Lahore before his team’s departure, said he along with allrounder Mohammed Hafeez would aim to fill the hole left by Ajmal’s absence.
“In Ajmal’s absence the role of bowlers like me, Hafeez and others has increased. It doesn’t mean we can fill his void but I am sure we can manage it,” he said.