Pakistan’s Shan Masood celebrates his century against Sri Lanka during the third day of their second Test cricket match at National Stadium in Karachi, Pakistan, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

KARACHI: Despite England’s defeat in the opening Test of the three-match West Indies series, Shan Masood has refused to tip Pakistan as favourites when the tourists come up against Joe Root’s side next month in their three-Test rubber.

Speaking to reporters here during an online Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) media conference from the national team’s base in Derby on Tuesday, the eloquent opening batsman admitted it’s very early days since the resumption of topflight international cricket, and hence, West Indies sealing a four-wicket win in the first Test at Southampton’s Ageas Bowl does not undermine England’s aspirations of bouncing back.

“I think [the result of] one match certainly doesn’t mean that England can’t get back into contention [against the West Indies]. We shouldn’t forget the fact that there was no competitive cricket over the past three months due to the novel coronavirus [Covid-19] situation anywhere in the world,” Shan underlined. “Obviously, they [England] struggled because they had not played since the series in South Africa at the start of the year and with county cricket, they couldn’t get the match practice, which does help a lot in getting rid of rustiness among the players.”

The 30-year-old Kuwait-born batsman, who had a good run in the previous eight Tests — averaging an impressive 44.57 while scoring two centuries since returning to the side during the tour of South Africa in 2018, said Pakistan are in an advantageous position in the sense they have earlier than usual because of the lockdown.

“We do have the advantage of monitoring England’s progress in the West Indies series and assess the strong and weak links of their squad. No matter how often you tour a country, the biggest challenge is to get acclimatise to the alien conditions, which can change dramatically in England once the overhead conditions get cloudy and atmosphere quite damp,” Shan remarked.

“This is where the true value of preparations is assessed. Regardless of the fact we aren’t going to play against the counties in the lead-up to the Tests, I still think we can prepare much better in the intra-squad matches because of the competiveness. If we had been playing against the counties, it wouldn’t have done much good because the opposing teams are basically second XIs in most cases.

“And since there will be stiff competition for places for the Tests among our own squad, you can imagine the level of preparations. But having said that we certainly cannot afford to get complacent because we’ll be up against a very good England side, particularly in the pace bowling department because there at least eight of them competing for three sports.

“Mark my word, we will not be taking the likes of James Anderson, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes lightly. All of them are proven performers and we have to be prepared well enough to tackle them.”

Shan, who has scored 1,189 runs at 31.28 in 20 Tests with three centuries, said the tour has started very well for the Pakistan side and the time since arriving in England have been spent in doing much-needed training to make up for the lack of competitive cricket since the advent of Covid-19.

“We are now starting the second phase of preparations for the Tests here in Derby where facilities are first-rate just like we had in Worcester. Our training had gone very well in the first phase after going through the quarantine period as required by the ECB in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic,” Shan said.

“We are greatly indebted to the ECB and the administration of Worcestershire county for looking after the Pakistan squad in the best possible way in this bio-secure environment. Apart from the training sessions we really enjoyed the time out during which we also played scenario matches and had the luxury of practising on the main pitches.

“The [training] sessions we had were par excellence and the backroom staff went out of the way to make sure each and every player get ample opportunities, whether it was the physical training or batting, bowling and the fielding drills. So I can say that we are leaving no room in terms of our hard preparations before the Test series starts, particularly after spending three months back home in complete lockdown.”

Shan — who had to undergo a harrowing phase when he only played 12 Tests in more than four years while averaging a poor 23.54 — revealed that he never got disheartened as regards his time in international cricket in those early years.

“One can never predict how your career will pan out. Sometimes whatever you do in uncontrollable because everything hinges on the luck. In my case I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say ‘the performance in those 12 Tests were far from my liking’ and the reason for that is probably my own undoing,” he stressed.

“Maybe I was not in the right frame to be playing at the highest level. The best lesson in this situation is how you bounce back through sustained efforts. On the way your graph will definitely improve. Fore me the team always comes first because our collective goal is to ensure Pakistan become a top side.

“Being an opener I know what my role is, to make sure together with my partner [currently Abid Ali] we get Pakistan off to a decent start. I’m here to give my best and help the team do well on a consistent basis after two forgetful appearances in 2016 [he mustered only 71 runs in two Tests before being dumped]. If we take a look at other teams and how they keep on playing good cricket consistently, it is pure because of unity in the ranks. And being a team sport, it is no secret really to point out that winning is always a good habit and that’s our main goal — to be very good at all times….,” Shan signed off.