Mike Holmans January 5, 2012

England aim at unfamiliar heights in unfamiliar conditions

It looks like I picked the wrong time to come back to Test cricket
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It looks like I picked the wrong time to come back to Test cricket. I took a break from keeping a detailed eye on it, and a whole rash of close and exciting Tests broke out. Now that I'm back in cricket-obsessed mode, though, we have two Tests going on where the excitement, such as it is, lies in personal milestones: as I write, neither Sri Lanka nor India stand an earthly chance of winning their games and it's merely a question of whether they can stave off defeat.

There is some talk of the visitors being at a great disadvantage because of the unfamiliar conditions, but in India's case it just won't wash: Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, and VVS Laxman have been to Australia often enough before. Sri Lanka have somewhat more excuse, but they have already won a match in the series, so they haven't failed dismally.

Of course, one reason I'm not very sympathetic is that this is going to be the year of unfamiliar conditions for England.

They will be playing nine of their 15 scheduled Tests in 2012 in the UAE, Sri Lanka and India. Should they succeed in their endeavours, it will be impossible to deny that they deserve to be World No. 1; should they fail, we can all start pointing fingers and talk about them being home-track bullies.

It is unfamiliar territory for the fans, for sure. It has been over 50 years since England have been the top Test team for any length of time (they were probably No. 1 briefly at the end of the 1970s when most top players were contracted to Kerry Packer), so it's very odd to have to contemplate each series as one they are supposed to win rather than worrying about how they will frustrate the huge threat posed by the opponents. From the behaviour of Australian and Indian fans during their periods at the top, apparently it is required that England fans indulge in lots of chest-puffing and blowhard declarations of eternal supremacy, but most of us are so out of practice that we have little idea how to go about it. Forgive me if what follows has insufficient braggadocio.

On paper, certainly, England ought to trounce Pakistan in Dubai and Abu Dhabi (I have a horrible temptation to think of these places as Flintstone-land and just call them all Yabba-dabba-doo, but I'll try to resist it). However, as India have been finding these last few months, Test cricket is played on surfaces composed of varying quantities of grass and mud rather than paper, which puts a rather different complexion on things.

While plenty of attention is being paid to England's batsmen's alleged weaknesses against quality spin, to me the real question is how they intend to manage the fitness of their pace bowlers.

The head-to-head match-up between Graeme Swann and Saeed Ajmal ought to be a real treat, but neither of them can bowl from both ends, and England's second spinner is exceedingly likely to be Kevin Pietersen, at least until he discovers an injury which prevents him from bowling. I simply don't see them picking Monty Panesar and dropping a batsman – because the logical one to leave out is Jonathan Trott, as he is the least proficient against spin, and they are not going to do that.

So there looks like being a great deal of work for whichever three of James Anderson, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett get picked for any one game. A great deal of work on bounceless pitches with no hope of swing assistance from a heavy atmosphere, in temperatures which pasty Europeans find most uncomfortable.

Consistency of selection has served England very well this last year or so, but I think they are going to have to be very hard-nosed about resting pace bowlers. The Two Andrews, Strauss and Flower, enjoy enough respect from the squad for them to be able to rest Anderson or Broad or whomever without causing major resentment, but expect a lot of transparent flim-flam about bowlers picking up minor niggles while taking five-fors: 5 for 132 is a lot more exhausting than 5 for 48.

Whoever plays for England, I expect an entertaining series. Pakistan know they are underdogs but their pre-series talk has been all about being up for the challenge of exceeding their previous bests, which bespeaks a confidence that was entirely lacking in most teams' hopeful noises about giving the Australians of the last decade a good game.

The general advice in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, apart from “Don't Panic!”, is “Expect the unexpected.” In my copy, the entry for Pakistan Cricket Team repeats that advice in upper-case bold underline. I'm looking forward to it.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dydy on May 21, 2012, 5:10 GMT

    who is this wajira i am not a mad pesorn i have good knowledge about ckicket i am watching cricket matches for a longtime since 1993 as well as i study cricket the age is not a problem to play look the fitness still he is the best runner between wickets in sri lanka. you mention few players they are good but should give chance to them but is sanath the only one pesorn failed recent i think mr aravinda will take good decision when select the team expierince sanath and murali all the best (0)

  • Shafiq on January 11, 2012, 8:57 GMT

    Thanks for the good article. My prediction is 2-0 win for Pak in tests, 3-1 in ODI, and 2-1 in T20.

    The only thing against Pakistan is not picking a fast bowling all-rounder, named Hammad Azam for Test matches...otherwise, a fantastic team.

  • Fahad Haroon on January 10, 2012, 9:48 GMT

    I must say Pakistan will win 2:0 in tests 4:1 in ODIs and 3:0 in T/20s. Saeed Ajmal will be the highest wicket tacker in test series with 18+ wickets. Umar Akmal also contribute well down the order if he get a chance in tests with aggressive batting Swann vs Umar Akmal treat to watch in UAE. Good Luck for Pakistan team.

  • Ishrat on January 8, 2012, 17:19 GMT

    Can I just say that after the disastrous two thousand ten, two thousand and eleven seemed God sent. This was a Pakistan team low on flair but high on grit low on grace but high on pragmatism and certainly by having Hafeez open the bowling certain innovations. Here is hoping for more of the same from Pakistan.

  • Mashkoor on January 8, 2012, 12:14 GMT

    This is indeed going to be a tough test for the Pakistani team. They have the momentum with them. All they need to do now is not to let their confidence subside by feeling intimidated by No.1 ranked test team. This will be a true test of the potential of the current combination of old and young players, that Pakistan now possess. Meanwhile, England need to move on from the hype created by being No.1 test team of the world and take on each future series without having that burden upon themselves. England have done a lot of hard work over the years and fully deserve this position in world cricket. They have quality batsmen and skilled bowlers. All they need to do now is negotiate the conditions, which although won't be 'harsh' to them, but will be a bit 'unknown' nonetheless. Lastly, I hope that this is a cracking series to behold. Both sides are very talented but Pakistan have a point to prove in this series: that they can hold their ground against more that one better-ranked team.

  • waterbuffalo on January 7, 2012, 5:22 GMT

    I look forward to it on pay per view, Pakistan's openers won't last two seconds against England's tall fast bowlers, so advantage england, Pakistan's advantage is they can play two spinners and 3 pacers far better than India's or Sri Lanka's attack so underestimate Pakistan's attack at your peril, then we have Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, two new players with fine technigue , once the ball goes soft England will have to deal with some very defensive batsmen, then it'll be a war of attrition. I suppose the UDRS is in use so that's fair enough. Good luck to both teams and may the best team win. Pakistan Zindabad!

  • dkh on January 7, 2012, 3:23 GMT

    Here is my world x1. 1 Cook Capt 2 Watson 3 Bell 4 Tendulkar 5 Taylor 6 Devilliers 7 Sangakhara WK 8 Bresnan 9 Swann 10 Steyn 11 Anderson

  • a.a on January 6, 2012, 18:08 GMT

    UAE is now home territory for Pakistan, so do not be sure of them getting 'trounced' as you say! Whoever wins, this will be a closely fought contest, much better than the mismatched Aus vs Ind, and SL vs SA. If Pakistan can bat well, and hold on their catches then this will their series. So many series have been lost due to catch dropping, hope that does not happen in this series.

  • Anonymous on January 6, 2012, 13:20 GMT

    Good article, well-written. Particularly liked the bit about India & Aus' bragging tendencies :-). Hope if England keep #1 for a while, they'll save shouting about it mainly for sore losers who write mindless drivel to devalue thier achievements to make poor excuses for thier own team's incompetence.

    Couple of minor criticisms: the "Yabba-Dabba-Doo-land" remark was a bit cringewrothy (I know you qualified it by saying "tempted, but I won't", but still rather unnecessary).

    Not sure I'd say Trott was England's least effective player of spin in the middle order either, but that's just subjective, one could probably argue credibly that he is.

    As for England winning hands-down on paper; you could have mentioned that Pakistan are the in-form team in test cricket right now (England could also claim this based on last "X" games, but they haven't played a test since August).

    Should be a hard-fought series!

  • cric xpert on January 6, 2012, 12:40 GMT

    Australia is crushing india while south africa is crushing srilanka. pakistan is the only left asian side which is in good touch ... lets hope it doesn't get crushed by england

  • Dydy on May 21, 2012, 5:10 GMT

    who is this wajira i am not a mad pesorn i have good knowledge about ckicket i am watching cricket matches for a longtime since 1993 as well as i study cricket the age is not a problem to play look the fitness still he is the best runner between wickets in sri lanka. you mention few players they are good but should give chance to them but is sanath the only one pesorn failed recent i think mr aravinda will take good decision when select the team expierince sanath and murali all the best (0)

  • Shafiq on January 11, 2012, 8:57 GMT

    Thanks for the good article. My prediction is 2-0 win for Pak in tests, 3-1 in ODI, and 2-1 in T20.

    The only thing against Pakistan is not picking a fast bowling all-rounder, named Hammad Azam for Test matches...otherwise, a fantastic team.

  • Fahad Haroon on January 10, 2012, 9:48 GMT

    I must say Pakistan will win 2:0 in tests 4:1 in ODIs and 3:0 in T/20s. Saeed Ajmal will be the highest wicket tacker in test series with 18+ wickets. Umar Akmal also contribute well down the order if he get a chance in tests with aggressive batting Swann vs Umar Akmal treat to watch in UAE. Good Luck for Pakistan team.

  • Ishrat on January 8, 2012, 17:19 GMT

    Can I just say that after the disastrous two thousand ten, two thousand and eleven seemed God sent. This was a Pakistan team low on flair but high on grit low on grace but high on pragmatism and certainly by having Hafeez open the bowling certain innovations. Here is hoping for more of the same from Pakistan.

  • Mashkoor on January 8, 2012, 12:14 GMT

    This is indeed going to be a tough test for the Pakistani team. They have the momentum with them. All they need to do now is not to let their confidence subside by feeling intimidated by No.1 ranked test team. This will be a true test of the potential of the current combination of old and young players, that Pakistan now possess. Meanwhile, England need to move on from the hype created by being No.1 test team of the world and take on each future series without having that burden upon themselves. England have done a lot of hard work over the years and fully deserve this position in world cricket. They have quality batsmen and skilled bowlers. All they need to do now is negotiate the conditions, which although won't be 'harsh' to them, but will be a bit 'unknown' nonetheless. Lastly, I hope that this is a cracking series to behold. Both sides are very talented but Pakistan have a point to prove in this series: that they can hold their ground against more that one better-ranked team.

  • waterbuffalo on January 7, 2012, 5:22 GMT

    I look forward to it on pay per view, Pakistan's openers won't last two seconds against England's tall fast bowlers, so advantage england, Pakistan's advantage is they can play two spinners and 3 pacers far better than India's or Sri Lanka's attack so underestimate Pakistan's attack at your peril, then we have Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, two new players with fine technigue , once the ball goes soft England will have to deal with some very defensive batsmen, then it'll be a war of attrition. I suppose the UDRS is in use so that's fair enough. Good luck to both teams and may the best team win. Pakistan Zindabad!

  • dkh on January 7, 2012, 3:23 GMT

    Here is my world x1. 1 Cook Capt 2 Watson 3 Bell 4 Tendulkar 5 Taylor 6 Devilliers 7 Sangakhara WK 8 Bresnan 9 Swann 10 Steyn 11 Anderson

  • a.a on January 6, 2012, 18:08 GMT

    UAE is now home territory for Pakistan, so do not be sure of them getting 'trounced' as you say! Whoever wins, this will be a closely fought contest, much better than the mismatched Aus vs Ind, and SL vs SA. If Pakistan can bat well, and hold on their catches then this will their series. So many series have been lost due to catch dropping, hope that does not happen in this series.

  • Anonymous on January 6, 2012, 13:20 GMT

    Good article, well-written. Particularly liked the bit about India & Aus' bragging tendencies :-). Hope if England keep #1 for a while, they'll save shouting about it mainly for sore losers who write mindless drivel to devalue thier achievements to make poor excuses for thier own team's incompetence.

    Couple of minor criticisms: the "Yabba-Dabba-Doo-land" remark was a bit cringewrothy (I know you qualified it by saying "tempted, but I won't", but still rather unnecessary).

    Not sure I'd say Trott was England's least effective player of spin in the middle order either, but that's just subjective, one could probably argue credibly that he is.

    As for England winning hands-down on paper; you could have mentioned that Pakistan are the in-form team in test cricket right now (England could also claim this based on last "X" games, but they haven't played a test since August).

    Should be a hard-fought series!

  • cric xpert on January 6, 2012, 12:40 GMT

    Australia is crushing india while south africa is crushing srilanka. pakistan is the only left asian side which is in good touch ... lets hope it doesn't get crushed by england

  • Alex on January 6, 2012, 10:25 GMT

    It will be a tough challenge for England no doubt but they should win. Yes Pakistan have done well recently but they have played Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and a very poor Sri Lanka.

    I also think of the two batting line ups Pakistans is more prone to a collapse, bowling England out twice will be tough for Pakistan especially considering how low England bat and even though our top 3 aren't that great against spin which will be Pakistans main weapon, our middle order in KP, Bell and Morgan are great players of spin and have the ability to knock the Pakistani spinners out of the game. Englands batting will be the key, with 4 players averaging around or above 50 in Cook, Trott, KP and Bell along with a number 7 who averages higher than most of the Pakistani batsmen. Add in we have quality bowling back up if the seamers get injuries or fatigued.

    My only concern is I hope Strauss is more aggressive in his declarations than he was on similar tracks in the Windies in 09.

  • daniel roxennn on January 6, 2012, 9:52 GMT

    i think it will be an even contest but persona;;y my heart says that pakistan is gonna win i think england have capability to give a very interesting fight

  • Syed J. Ahmed on January 6, 2012, 8:52 GMT

    As you've said "Expect the unexpected" Pakistan is a very dangerous team... especially when they're the underdogs. Lets hope both teams stay healthy and away from controversies so we can see these two go head to head full strenght. India and Sri lanka are both carrying dead weight whereas Pakistan has slowly built itself up with the inclusion of some fascinating new players who've been scoring against every team all around the world. Can't wait for this series to start!

  • Bilal Choudry on January 6, 2012, 8:44 GMT

    I dont think this is Pakistan of the old where you could strangle them and they gave the wickets away ... so england will be in for a surprise ... each pakistan batsman now puts a price on his wicket ... england's advantage will be nullified by the conditions ... remember england were trounced in there last sub continent trip

  • zain on January 6, 2012, 5:04 GMT

    Nice article. It will be tough for England as it will be for Pakistan but i disagree with your point about "expect the unexpected". I reckon the result will be 2 draws and 1 win (60% in favor of England). Cheers

  • Saad Shafqat on January 6, 2012, 3:33 GMT

    Yabba-dabba-doo land? Not nice, Mike. You can do better than that.

  • Tayyeb on January 6, 2012, 3:20 GMT

    wake up smell the coffee and protect your back as there are no hostile English media to fall back on... Its time to play cricket in Pakistan and not on neutral venues. On my recent visit to Pakistan I have seen plenty of 'pasty Europeans' enjoy the hospitality in safety.

  • Jack on January 6, 2012, 2:55 GMT

    You call Trott the least proficient against spin yet he averages 73 in tests against spin and was Englands best batter in the recent ODI's in India and in the world cup. Do your homework before you starting talking rubbish please.

  • Jacob on January 5, 2012, 23:47 GMT

    Quite simply, I have high hopes that it will be fantastic.

    I do believe however that England have a clear advantage. Their trip to Australia showed that they can bowl sides out on dry pitches, and they have a mental strength to keep pushing their opposition even when behind.

    The ODI series in India can be ignored because of just that, ODIs. The England team are test pitbulls and ODI golden retrievers. There greatest test match artists, Cook, Trott, and Anderson need time and space to weave their magic.

    With that being said, Pakistan are talented, and appear to be gaining a real drive. They don't have the shared history and experience that appears to make this English team so good, but they may be heading that way. A team ascending often seem to lift themselves in big contests, but when the heat is really on, do they have enough to fall back on? Pakistan against the new ball, and England against the old will be fascinating to watch.

    Can't wait.

  • Ama on January 5, 2012, 21:09 GMT

    Um, since when do SriLanka and India play in the UAE. It's not even the same continent let alone the country lol. It shows why you would have the urge to call it "Flintstone-land". You probably know nothing of the world outside. :). It is clearly noticeable that you have been out of cricket for a while, think you should do some catching up before writing.

    [Mike: I note that the Pakistan team are describing the conditions in UAE as being very similar to home. I prefer to rely for my information on those who know what they are talking about: I advise you to adopt a similar practice.]

  • imran abbas on January 5, 2012, 20:25 GMT

    i think pakistan was best team to oppose a challenge to england in england but they were hit badly by contravercies... they even played very well against Austrailia there.. then onwards this team has shown more consistency and improvement... so i expect alteast a very tough fight from pakistan.. and it wont be a peace of cake for england.. pakistan just lacks a good fast bowling allrounder and good wicketkeeper batsman... but its a good side.. best of luck to bith teams and i hope pakistan wins... good article by the way x

  • faisal on January 5, 2012, 18:06 GMT

    "On paper, certainly, England ought to trounce Pakistan"

    The last time Pakistan played England on their green tops things went almost head to head despite all the controversies. I don't know what makes you so sure about "trouncing" Pakistan now in these conditions when we have been inconsistently so consistent.

    [Mike: I'm not *sure* that England will win: I'm merely pointing out that most of England's team are in the World top 10 in their respective disciplines and Pakistan's aren't, so if we were doing a paper simulation, England would win every time. But we aren't going to be playing on paper.]

  • Asher Rafiq on January 5, 2012, 16:55 GMT

    Anxiously waiting!! want to see 2 fantastic / aggressive teams playing fighting cricket. Good luck to both teams. But I want Pakistan to win or atleast give good fight.Please don't play like pathetic Indians.

  • Neel on January 5, 2012, 16:15 GMT

    "On paper, certainly, England ought to trounce Pakistan in Dubai and Abu Dhabi "

    "Trounce" are you sure about that. Paistan have a an equal seam and spin attack. In batting department England have an advantage but that is evened out by the conditions. So, likely to be quite close.

  • Ali Shah on January 5, 2012, 16:04 GMT

    Wonderful piece. Really liked the last paragraph. However I do think that you are quite unfamiliar with the temperature in the UAE during this time of the year. It is extremely pleasant and it perfect weather for cricket. The English won't be tiring out anytime soon.

  • Anonymous on January 5, 2012, 14:58 GMT

    It will be the same scenario as England will perform in same manner as they did in India in recently concluded series and then their excuse will be that it was very warm. Only Australia and South Africa can perform better in UAE otherwise none.

  • stephen on January 5, 2012, 14:45 GMT

    great piece ... love your point of view, keep it up

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  • stephen on January 5, 2012, 14:45 GMT

    great piece ... love your point of view, keep it up

  • Anonymous on January 5, 2012, 14:58 GMT

    It will be the same scenario as England will perform in same manner as they did in India in recently concluded series and then their excuse will be that it was very warm. Only Australia and South Africa can perform better in UAE otherwise none.

  • Ali Shah on January 5, 2012, 16:04 GMT

    Wonderful piece. Really liked the last paragraph. However I do think that you are quite unfamiliar with the temperature in the UAE during this time of the year. It is extremely pleasant and it perfect weather for cricket. The English won't be tiring out anytime soon.

  • Neel on January 5, 2012, 16:15 GMT

    "On paper, certainly, England ought to trounce Pakistan in Dubai and Abu Dhabi "

    "Trounce" are you sure about that. Paistan have a an equal seam and spin attack. In batting department England have an advantage but that is evened out by the conditions. So, likely to be quite close.

  • Asher Rafiq on January 5, 2012, 16:55 GMT

    Anxiously waiting!! want to see 2 fantastic / aggressive teams playing fighting cricket. Good luck to both teams. But I want Pakistan to win or atleast give good fight.Please don't play like pathetic Indians.

  • faisal on January 5, 2012, 18:06 GMT

    "On paper, certainly, England ought to trounce Pakistan"

    The last time Pakistan played England on their green tops things went almost head to head despite all the controversies. I don't know what makes you so sure about "trouncing" Pakistan now in these conditions when we have been inconsistently so consistent.

    [Mike: I'm not *sure* that England will win: I'm merely pointing out that most of England's team are in the World top 10 in their respective disciplines and Pakistan's aren't, so if we were doing a paper simulation, England would win every time. But we aren't going to be playing on paper.]

  • imran abbas on January 5, 2012, 20:25 GMT

    i think pakistan was best team to oppose a challenge to england in england but they were hit badly by contravercies... they even played very well against Austrailia there.. then onwards this team has shown more consistency and improvement... so i expect alteast a very tough fight from pakistan.. and it wont be a peace of cake for england.. pakistan just lacks a good fast bowling allrounder and good wicketkeeper batsman... but its a good side.. best of luck to bith teams and i hope pakistan wins... good article by the way x

  • Ama on January 5, 2012, 21:09 GMT

    Um, since when do SriLanka and India play in the UAE. It's not even the same continent let alone the country lol. It shows why you would have the urge to call it "Flintstone-land". You probably know nothing of the world outside. :). It is clearly noticeable that you have been out of cricket for a while, think you should do some catching up before writing.

    [Mike: I note that the Pakistan team are describing the conditions in UAE as being very similar to home. I prefer to rely for my information on those who know what they are talking about: I advise you to adopt a similar practice.]

  • Jacob on January 5, 2012, 23:47 GMT

    Quite simply, I have high hopes that it will be fantastic.

    I do believe however that England have a clear advantage. Their trip to Australia showed that they can bowl sides out on dry pitches, and they have a mental strength to keep pushing their opposition even when behind.

    The ODI series in India can be ignored because of just that, ODIs. The England team are test pitbulls and ODI golden retrievers. There greatest test match artists, Cook, Trott, and Anderson need time and space to weave their magic.

    With that being said, Pakistan are talented, and appear to be gaining a real drive. They don't have the shared history and experience that appears to make this English team so good, but they may be heading that way. A team ascending often seem to lift themselves in big contests, but when the heat is really on, do they have enough to fall back on? Pakistan against the new ball, and England against the old will be fascinating to watch.

    Can't wait.

  • Jack on January 6, 2012, 2:55 GMT

    You call Trott the least proficient against spin yet he averages 73 in tests against spin and was Englands best batter in the recent ODI's in India and in the world cup. Do your homework before you starting talking rubbish please.