England gear up to erase previous UAE debacle - series preview
The last time England were in the United Arab Emirates they were ground to dust. Now they face the same adversary from Pakistan who are brimming with the confidence from a rare away series win against Sri Lanka under their belt.
This could be a marquee Test series also because Misbah-ul-Haq is dropping hints that it could be his last. What a player he has been for Pakistan, through the most tumultuous times in their cricket history, leading a mediocre team and building one that is almost prepared for the future!
If it is indeed his last Test series, the Pakistan skipper having already retired from Twenty20 Internationals and One-Day International cricket, he deserves a great farewell and his boys will definitely know that. That won’t make England’s task any easier.
England play three Tests, four ODIs and three T20Is in that order, which means that their Test squad will hardly have much time to get acclimatized to the conditions. However, the two practice games against Pakistan A will benefit them.
Form in the last two years
England’s Test form in the last two years hasn’t been amazing. They have lost an away series to Australia 5-0, lost a home series to Sri Lanka 1-0, won a home series against India 3-1, drew an away series with West Indies 1-1, drew a home series against New Zealand 1-1 and won the Ashes 3-2 recently, making for an 8-11 win-loss record.
However, they can take heart from the fact that they have gone undefeated in four Test series.
Pakistan have been better in the last two years, largely because they haven’t had any treacherous tours. They have mostly played in sub-continental conditions.
In UAE they drew 1-1 with South Africa, lost 1-0 to Sri Lanka, defeated Australia 2-0 and drew 1-1 with New Zealand. Playing away, they have lost 2-1 to Sri Lanka, won 1-0 against Bangladesh and then won 2-1 in Sri Lanka.
In the Tests, England and Pakistan are ranked three and four respectively in the International Cricket Council rankings with a point separating them.
While this has been the case for Tests, in ODIs the two teams are scripting an interesting trail.
Pakistan are mercurial in ODIs. They’ve lost 3-0 in Bangladesh to Bangladesh but seemed to be getting their bearings right against Zimbabwe. Their World Cup performance Down Under was marginally better than that of England.
England on the other hand have discovered a different gear to their short-format game under the able leadership of Eoin Morgan, who represents a rebellious style of playing.
England have been sensational against New Zealand as well as against Australia playing a fresh brand of cricket. That means it is hard to call between England and Pakistan in the shorter formats.
In the ODI rankings, England are at six, still better than Pakistan’s nine. However, ahead of the T20 World Cup, Pakistan ranked second in T20 will give eighth-placed England excellent practice and a stern test.
Strengths and weaknesses
Pakistan’s main strength in Tests is their middle order, once their Achilles heel.
Misbah, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali are solid and with Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez probably back in the scheme of things with Sarfraz Khan providing brilliant counter-attacking knocks, England have to be really careful.
Pakistan also have a reliable leg-spinner in Yasir Shah, who bamboozled the Sri Lankans. Pakistan’s weakness lies in their inconsistent pace bowlers, who are all inexperienced with the exception of Wahab Riaz.
England’s strengths lie in their well-settled bowling line-up which now has variety with Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, the leg-spinner who is likely to get a look in.
Ben Stokes will be the third pacer giving England some variety and cushion. But England’s main worry will be at the top of the order where Alastair Cook will be most likely partnered with Ali. Alex Hales might have to wait for his chance.
Joe Root is in the form of his life and James Taylor will play at number five in all likelihood but it is an inexperienced batting line-up for UAE conditions with the exception of Ian Bell and Cook.
So, it will come down to a tussle between Pakistan’s bowling and England’s untested batting in conditions that are generally flatter and favour spin.
Players to watch out for
For England, the players to watch out for are Joe Root, Alex Hales and Ben Stokes.
Hales and Stokes will find this experience a different one from what they have seen in their international cricket careers so far and if they come off, England will have quick runs and lot of them.
Root will definitely be among the runs but Bell’s lacklustre form is a concern.
For Pakistan, Yasir Shah will be the key in the bowling department. A lot will depend on Younis Khan’s batting along with that of Mohammad Hafeez.
For the shorter versions, Jason Roy and Eoin Morgan are key for England given their recent form, whereas Pakistan are learning to rely yet again on Shoaib Malik, who has hit a purple patch with his batting.
© Cricket World 2015