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Four areas of improvement for England

Four areas of improvement for England
Can England continue their Ashes winning momentum in the series against Pakistan in UAE?
©REUTERS / Action Images
 

The Ashes win was an important victory for England in a summer where the connection between fans and the team was restored, the acrimony of the Kevin Pietersen affair put to rest for good and a new, vibrant side emerged. 

Despite this, it must be remembered that England’s side is inexperienced and raw; there are important areas of improvement and whilst winning the Ashes at home was a marvellous achievement, winning in the United Arab Emirates against Pakistan will be a far tougher assignment. 

Here are four areas where England need to improve.

Hundreds

In the last two years, England have averaged less than one hundred a game with 19 hundreds from 22 Tests, and Joe Root and Gary Ballance – who is not on the tour – have scored 10 of them.

England only scored two hundreds in the Ashes series and both of those were scored by Root. This is an area where major improvement is needed.

Moeen Ali looks the most likely to partner Alastair Cook at the top of the order, so it falls on them along with Ian Bell and Root to try and improve this record.

Big hundreds often go a long way to winning Test matches in any conditions but even more so in the subcontinent where runs on the board puts huge pressure on the opposition; England’s brilliant series win in India in 2012 was built on big hundreds from Cook and Pietersen so the precedent is there.

When top-order batsmen get in, it is vital that they go on and score hundreds. It will be extremely hard for the middle order to come in against the quality of Pakistan’s spinners Yasir Shah and Zulfiqar Babar and once set, the England top order need to make hay.

For Pakistan, the likes of Younis Khan and Azhar Ali are skilled at turning their starts in to big hundreds and England must do the same, with much resting on the shoulders of Cook and Root.  

Spin Bowling

The England spinners on duty when England last faced Pakistan in the UAE were Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, who took 27 wickets between them.

This time around it is Ali and Adil Rashid, two far less experienced cricketers at international level, who have the job.

No doubt both players have the attributes to prosper in the UAE: spinning the ball hard and getting it above the batsmen's eye line. There are question marks over both however.

Ali has been England’s premier spinner for the past 18 months and has taken some important wickets but is still learning his trade and therefore is inconsistent. His failure to bowl out the West Indies in Barbados in May on a wearing surface was indicative of that.

Rashid bowled well against New Zealand and Australia in one-day cricket during the summer and is sure to make his long-awaited Test debut but it remains to be seen whether he can deliver in Test cricket.

Samit Patel is the other spinner in the squad but is unlikely to play.

The onus is on Ali and Rashid to provide an incisive edge to the England attack on pitches that will not offer the same help that the green seamers of Trent Bridge and Edgbaston did during the Ashes for England’s seamers.

Both are attacking bowlers who can bowl bad balls at times so it will be interesting to see if Cook has to turn to Root to bowl some overs of off-spin if runs are leaking.

For England to win, it is likely that Ali and Rashid will have to get near to the haul that Swann and Panesar got in 2012.

Middle Order Runs

There is no doubting the talent that Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler possess, but England require more middle order runs.

Bairstow is finding his way after being recalled to the side but Stokes and Buttler need to provide more substantial contributions than they have done of late.

In the Ashes series, Ali and Stuart Broad rescued England on a couple of occasions after a middle order collapse and the batting still feels over reliant on Cook and Root.

Stokes averages 31 from 13 Test matches and Buttler 35 from 13 games whilst Bairstow averages just 27 from 17 Tests.

These stats are solid but should be 10 runs higher each, especially for Bairstow and Stokes who are batting at five and six. They are front line batsmen and should be measured as such.

It will be tough going for the middle order against Pakistan’s excellent spinners, especially for the first half hour of their innings, but runs from the middle order will be crucial in building the big totals that England will need to pressure the Pakistanis.

James Taylor, an excellent player of spin, is waiting in the wings and could force his way in to the side, especially if Buttler’s horror run with the bat continues.

Patience

A notable factor of England’s play throughout the summer was the attacking vibrancy with which they played. It brought them success against Australia and New Zealand but also three heavy defeats.

That is to be expected from a young team, but it points to a need for improvement in realising the moments when it’s fine to bide their time and go on the defensive.

Cricket in the subcontinent demands more patience and less aggression, taking games in to the last day and then seizing the moment to press for victory. This is not a regression but a realistic recipe for success in conditions alien to English players.

Success will be built on big scores but the pitches are likely to be slow – even if they have quickened up a tad since England were last in the UAE - so Cook and his men will need to occupy the crease and bat long.

Scoring 250 in a day is not to be sniffed at as long as wickets are in hand. The crash, bang, wallop approach does not pay dividends in the UAE as England and Australia have found out to their cost in recent years.

With the ball, England’s seamers must bowl straight and fuller at the stumps than they would in England, targeting bowleds and LBWs – catches behind the wicket will be rare - and setting defensive fields where necessary with plenty of fielders in front of the bat.

The spinners must not drop short giving the Pakistani batsmen free runs and be consistent with their length to bring men around the bat in to the game. In the field, they must take every opportunity when it comes.

Winning the series in the UAE would be a greater achievement than beating the Australians at home.

England have the skill and the ability but they will have to improve in the areas above to stand a chance.

© Cricket World 2015