Strauss desperate for clean series
Andrew Strauss has insisted he has no qualms over the squad Pakistan have selected for the Tests in UAE despite links to the spot-fixing trial which led to Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt being handed jail sentences.
Three further players whose names were mentioned during the trial at Southwark Crown Court - left-arm quick Wahab Riaz, opening batsman Imran Farhat and middle-order player Umar Akmal - are part of Pakistan's 16-man squad for the three Tests in Dubai and Abu Dhabi which start on January 17. No charges were brought against any of those players.
Strauss has previously spoken about needing to move on from the controversy which began at Lord's in 2010, when the now defunct News of the World exposed the spot-fixing scam involving deliberate no-balls, and he again talked about a fresh start as the England squad prepared to fly out from Heathrow.
"It's their obligation and duty to pick the best side they think is available to them," Strauss said. "I think the spot-fixing stuff is something we are desperately keen to move on from. I don't think there's any good that can come from churning it all up again and it's time to just concentrate on the cricket. We will play whichever XI is selected."
Even before spot-fixing the history of contests between these two teams was littered with controversy including the abandoned Test at The Oval in 2006 and the infamous altercation between Mike Gatting and umpire Shakoor Rana in 1987. Strauss, though, is very keen to ensure that the next couple of months don't add another reason to remember the occasion for the wrong reasons.
"This perception that there are always issues between Pakistan and England, we should see this as an opportunity to eradicate that," he said. "There's no reason why that should be the case. If we approach it in the right spirit then that should be good for relations between the two teams and world cricket in general.
"Pakistan are playing a lot of good cricket and that's going to be the challenge for us to overcome them, on the field. What's happened before is water under the bridge and I hope both sides can play in the right spirit and produce an entertaining and exciting Test match series."
Pakistan's recent form has included Test victories against Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and while that trio doesn't represent the toughest challenge in the game it is the consistency of a notoriously unpredictable team that caught the eye in the second half of 2011.
They have compensated for the absence of Amir and Asif with the emergence of Junaid Khan, a left-arm quick who faces a fitness Test to see whether he'll be available to play against England, while Aizaz Cheema was a releative late-comer to international cricket at the age of 31. Throw in the skills of Saeed Ajmal, currently the world's leading spinner, and they remain a potent attack.
"They are probably one of the form teams in world cricket at the moment. I think their bowling attack has been pretty impressive," Strauss said." They seem to have a production line of good quality bowlers and Saeed Ajmal in particular has done well in those conditions. They have got a good balance to their side and they are playing some good, sort of smart cricket at the moment."
There is also the advantage of having played a considerable amount of cricket in UAE which is now their home away from home, although Strauss wasn't too concerned about the unknown quantity of what England will encounter.
"The conditions aren't tremendously foreign they are sub-continental definitely," he said. "I suppose it's fairly attritional cricket and that's what you need to get used to doing in those sort of conditions. Taking 20 wickets is going to be the key and I'm very thankful that we go out there with a well-balanced bowling attack that has challenged teams continuously over the last couple of years. I'm sure they will continue to do that."
Strauss said that England are likely to select three of the five quick bowlers in the tour party when the Test series begins which, coupled with the likelihood of them retaining six specialist batsmen and Matt Prior at No. 7, means Monty Panesar will need to wait a bit longer to resume his Test career.
England's two warm-up matches, the first against an Associates and Affiliates XI starting on Saturday, will give Chris Tremlett and Steven Finn a chance to push their claims for a recall but they face a tough task to break up the attack that completed the 4-0 whitewash against India. For whichever bowlers do play, it will be a tough few weeks.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo