Pakistan seek to escape unhappy history
Tuesday, January 17-21, Dubai
Start time 1000 (0600 GMT)
History will hang heavily over this series. Three Pakistan players are serving custodial sentences after being found guilty on match-rigging charges during the 2010 series in England. However much England suggest that the affair is now largely a media obsession and Pakistan provide indications of more stable and contented times, such matters cannot be easily waved aside.
That Pakistan recover their strength and reputation is vital for the health of world cricket and England have been reminded of their responsibilities to contest the series in a natural manner and to rise above any resentment, which does exist, over what has gone before without losing the competitive and aggressive edge that has contributed to their rise to the No. 1 Test side in the world.
Pakistan are careful not to speak of "home advantage" because Dubai, however much the conditions might be similar to those in Lahore or Karachi, is simply not home. But sub-consciously England feel themselves in an away series, not a neutral one. Their policy of six specialist batsmen, three pace bowlers and a solitary spinner automatically comes under strain on placid surfaces and the loss of Tim Bresnan, the most capable batsmen in their lower order, does not make a change of tack easy.
Test series between Pakistan and England have often been wonderfully combative affairs. As long as the pitches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi encourage attractive cricket, it is an appealing prospect.
Players to watch
Saeed Ajmal has enlivened the build-up to the Test by announcing, Shane Warne-style, that he is about to unleash a formidable new delivery. The doosra - "the other one" - is about to be supported by the teesra - "the third one".
Whatever the impact of that proves to be, Ajmal will test England's improvement against spin bowling to the utmost. For England, Stuart Broad will be desperate to escape the run of injuries that have disrupted his progress over the past year. A bruised foot suffered when batting in the nets is unlikely to hinder him, but it gives a further impression of vulnerability that he could do without.
Any temptation that England felt to abandon their policy of six batsmen disappeared the moment that Tim Bresnan, the sturdiest batsman among the bowling attack, left the tour through injury. To include Monty Panesar as a second spinner would therefore entail perming three fast bowlers from six. In the first Test at least, they are likely to exclude Panesar and stick to a proven formula.
England (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Eoin Morgan, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 James Anderson, 11 Chris Tremlett
Pakistan (probable) 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Taufeeq Umar, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Asad Shafiq, 7 Adnam Akmal (wk), 8 Abdur Rehman, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Wahab Riaz
Pitch and conditions
England are bracing themselves for a demanding bowling experience on a benign surface, in conditions that do not offer the fast bowlers much help. The two Tests played at the DICS so far don't entirely support that view with only one total so far in excess of 400.
Stats and trivia
- England are sure to remain top of the ICC Test Championship if they do not lose to Pakistan by more than a one-Test margin in the three-Test series.
- England have three bowlers - Graeme Swann, James Anderson and Stuart Broad - in the top four of the Test rankings.
- In their last home series against Pakistan, England dismissed the opposition for less than 100 on three occasions.
- Pakistan have won nine, lost 11 and drawn seven of their 27 Tests since their loss of home Tests because of security concerns. Only seven of those Tests have been at a neutral venue.
"It's all a bit smoke and mirrors isn't it. Just remember, you don't play the bowler and what he says, you play the ball that comes out of his hand."
Graham Gooch, England's batting coach, admits to a spot of cynicism about the threat of Saeed Ajmal's teesra.
"It's good to see every player backing the other. The days of infighting and rifts seem to be over."
Wasim Akram, the former Pakistan captain, anticipates happier times.
"We play our cricket very, very hard. There's no way Jimmy Anderson, who is a grumpy bowler, is not going to be grumpy. The guys will still be aggressive, that's what has got us to No 1."Kevin Pietersen, reflecting on how past history might affect the mood of the Pakistan v England Test series
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo