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January 16, 2012

Pakistan v England 2012

The tortoise can triumph

Kamran Abbasi
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq shakes hands with his England counterpart Andrew Strauss over the series trophy, Dubai, January 16, 2012
The cricket in this series should be fascinating enough before the inevitable controversies interfere  © AFP
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When Pakistan play England, to paraphrase Coldplay, every series is a watershed. Confrontations are frequent, disagreements a ritual. Fifty years of competition have brought us a rivalry infused with socio-political significance. When the malodour of colonial rule began to evaporate, radicals nearer to home and neo-conservatives abroad blew another ill wind through the senses of these cricketing combatants. Both parties have periodically made pledges of mutual respect and bonhomie but the heat of battle tends to create heat, not light.

Certain Pakistan cricketers brought disgrace to English shores in 2010, and that memory will be hard to shake as this series unravels. England arrive in the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan's exile home, with a stain on their domestic game courtesy of the recent spot-fixing verdict against Mervyn Westfield. As unfortunate as the Westfield case is, it serves to remind players and commentators that corruption in cricket is not a uniquely Pakistani problem, ironically helping to tone down the tension of this series.

Indeed, a series that might have been previewed with dread has become a stimulus for enthusiasm. England are undisputed world champions, Pakistan a surprisingly close second in Test success in the last 12 months. In that period, England scored at the fastest run rate of all teams, while Pakistan bettered only Zimbabwe; forget Imran versus Botham and Wasim versus Atherton, welcome tortoise versus hare.

England's status has yet to be challenged in Asian conditions, and the conditions in UAE approximate closely to those in Lahore and Karachi. Misbah-ul-Haq's side has been strong in this environment, even without Saeed Ajmal's teesra. The cricket in this series should be fascinating enough before the inevitable controversies interfere.

Despite a successful year both teams face selection issues. Tim Bresnan's injury means that England lose a little balance to their team, which makes the inclusion of a second spinner a bigger gamble. Pakistan's success in UAE has been based on depth in quality spin-bowling, a lesson England would do well to heed.

Pakistan's current batsmen are generally less adept against spin than other Asian sides, and Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar will generate more panic than James Anderson and his fellow pacemen. England, though, might be reluctant to start the first Test with Anderson and Broad as their only fast bowlers.

Pakistan's strength remains with their bowlers, where Ajmal will pose the greatest threat to England's formidable batting line up. With Umar Gul's ability to reverse swing and Mohammad Hafeez's back-up offspin, Pakistan's attack has more depth in these conditions than England's. Wahab Riaz, a player who adds some extra pace, batting potential, as well as needle to the contest, would be my choice to support Gul. Pakistan retain that precious ability to plunder wickets in sudden bursts, turning a match on its head. England will need to be wary of such moments.

The key to the contest, however, might be scoring rate. Pakistan's defensive approach has been born of necessity, and plays to the strengths of its batsmen, especially the senior pros Misbah and Younis Khan. The tactic has worked admirably thus far but Pakistan might have to risk a little to challenge England, the best team they have played in this new era. A need for speed argues for a recall for Umar Akmal, an attacking batsman capable of middle-order acceleration, probably in place of Asad Shafiq. If that change is made it will signal a subtle change in mindset in the Pakistan camp.

The next few weeks are important for both countries; England determined to underline their number one status and Pakistan facing a stern examination of their revival. The series seems set to be hard fought, decided by a small margin. The result is a hard one to call, which adds to the anticipation, but 'home' advantage will give Pakistan an edge and Misbah's tuk-tuk merchants have every chance of completing a tortoise-like crawl to victory.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here

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Posted by Subhan on (February 14, 2012, 13:46 GMT)

The thing is why don't Pakistan bring in a more expierienced player like Shoib Aktar,although he's retiered,they should drop Wahab Riaz.He is'nt doing anything.Pakistan also need to put Afridi up the order because he did well yesterday in the position he was in but he could have done it better up the order so he is'nt under preasure as the last batsmen in the line-up,if he was up the order he would'nt be under preasure and would do his normal thing and get more runs on the board to relax the line-up.Another awful desicion is why drop Abdul Razzaq and play Shoib Malik,Malik is a brilliant player but he has'nt done well since 2009,Razzaq did brilliantly then and does brilliatly now,when ever Pakistan's in trouble there's alwayes Razzaq,for instance the odi in Dubai against South Africa in 2010 he pulled them to the win and another instance in the 3rd or 4th odi against England in 2010 he was the man of the match for scoring 45 in around 15 20 balls.so Pakista should've played him.

Posted by SN Qazi on (February 13, 2012, 11:11 GMT)

One of the mysteries in Pakistan cricket is why some players who have not performed for ages can continue to remain members of the team and play . Shoaib Malik is one such example . I suppose after 15 or 20 innings if he performs in one inning an attempt will be made to justify the inclusion . The other question I have is why the players from Karachi are discarded whenever they fail to perform in even one inning ?

Posted by faheem on (February 11, 2012, 7:27 GMT)

thz is ridiclus Misbah request to select shoaib malike in pak team.he don,t deserve to stay in playing11.infact Misbah don,t deserve it..he has not a match winning player..just like jackal the approaches he always made when he is on strike..shoaib malik is a good friend of misbah..thz is not good to generate benefit in professional cricket from relationship..all should find new talent just like umer akmal and junaid khan.

Posted by Saleem Nasir Qazi on (February 9, 2012, 5:29 GMT)

What a terrible decision . Dropping Abdul Razaq and in his place selecting Shoaib Malik is an atrocious decision . I wonder who is behind this terrible decision . Shoaib Malik has not performed at all since 2009 .

Posted by Hussain on (January 27, 2012, 18:12 GMT)

We have to induct technically sound batsmen in our line up if we have to improve our run rate & perform against better teams. Last year it was against lowly rated WI,BAN & ZIM that we earned wins. In the current scenario it is commendable but we have to look forward & face AUS,Eng & SA. Misbah & YK are down the hill & may play for few more years. We don,t see any batsman in our line up to shoulder its future responsilbility except may be Azhar or Hafeez. Rest are just surviving.

Posted by Galib Yusuf on (January 19, 2012, 5:15 GMT)

@Nick, maybe you should read the whole sentence before making a comment. Kamran said IN DUBAI condition and not in British condition. Historically,English bowlers had the hardest time co-op with the hot and humid conditions of the subcontinent, especially in India and Pakistan.I would say this though that England do have some very good bowlers. Ironically, The first two days of the test proved Kamran right, isn't it or you think the way BOB Willis think? By the way, right after Ajmal's 7 wickets he questioned legality of his bowling actions. Why could not he talk a week before that? Because he did not think english batsmen will be fooled so easily as they did the first day.....

Posted by waterbuffalo on (January 19, 2012, 1:55 GMT)

Agree with Farhan (second post) the slower the better, why swing the bat and lose by the third day? Sometimes, limited, boring batsmen are more useful than talented batsmen. Give me Asim Kamal over Umar Akmal. Only batsmen I really miss is Yusuf. Imagine a middle order of Younis, Yusuf and Misbah, still I don't believe in miracles, give Azhar and Asad a chance, I am worried Pakistan might end up like India, too many old players who have seen it all and who do have the hunger anymore. Well done Ajmal, you have a beautiful action. Let them say what they want. Be as boring as you want Pakistan.

Posted by Faraz (the first Fara on all of Kamran's blogs) on (January 18, 2012, 14:51 GMT)

We are all wanting for Misbah to show a bit more agression but I disagree with Mr. Abassi, if Umar Akmal needs to be introduced, it has to be in place of Azhar Ali not Asad Shafiq. Azhar like Misbah, is the one grinding the opposition with the boring defensive approach - if Azhar Ali is replaced by Umar Akmal at No.3, the entire defensive posture will change automagically. No need to bring in Umar Akmal at No.6 - that would be a waste of talent. and believe me, Umar needs to be in the second test with Wahab - why Mohsin sticks with burger Cheema is beyond me - Cheema is a bonafide first class cricketer at best. Umar Gul needs Wahab Riaz from the other end and finally, Pakistan need to rethink Abdur Rehamn...with Hafeez and Ajmal, I think it opens the door for Junaid Khan.

Posted by BoomBoom on (January 17, 2012, 14:18 GMT)

What was notable after the first day’s play was that Pakistan did not bowl a single no-ball. In the whole of England first innings there were only two extras (leg byes). It’s a good discipline coming from Pak bowlers but also shows that last year’s controversy is not completely off their mind.

Posted by aneeza on (January 17, 2012, 14:17 GMT)

once again English media has gone maddddddd.... they have failed to cope against Saeed AJmal's TEESRA... gr888 show by PAKISTAN...

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kamran Abbasi
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He was the first Asian columnist for Wisden Cricket Monthly and wisden.com. Kamran is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. @KamranAbbasi

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