Pakistan v England, 3rd Test, Dubai February 2, 2012

Bell fit as England look to restore confidence

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Andrew Strauss has warned his England teammates they are playing for their places in the final Test of the series against Pakistan in Dubai.

Pakistan have already taken an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three match series, with several England batsmen enduring miserable tours. Strauss (17), Eoin Morgan (10.25), Ian Bell (9) and Kevin Pietersen (4.25) are all averaging under 20 in the two Tests and have been largely at fault as England's batting has struggled in three of the four innings.

"You can't keep underperforming forever," Strauss said. "All of us have a responsibility to improve our games. I'm a strong believer that no-one is guaranteed their place in the England side. The environment only works if there is pressure on your for your place, so we all have to work very hard for the next five days."

Despite Strauss' words, it is far from certain that England will make any changes for this game. While there is a temptation to bring in Ravi Bopara for Eoin Morgan - Bopara's medium-pace bowling gives the Essex player an edge in that regard - the England management have invested a lot of time and faith in Morgan. The continuity of selection policy has served them well and they are loathe to drop a player they feel has the character to flourish at this level. Morgan did make a Test century against India only four Tests ago and the management signalled their liking for him by appointing him vice-captain of the T20 side. Similarly, England are not about to forget about the excellent months that Pietersen and Bell enjoyed before this tour.

They are no further injury concerns in the England squad. Bell had recovered sufficiently from his stomach trouble to resume training on Thursday and nobody else in the squad has contracted the illness.

Back in England, Chris Tremlett could be set for three months on the sidelines after seeing a specialist and being told he needs surgery. He tweeted: "Scans reveal a bulging disc and may require a little clean up. Hopefully back playing mid to end of April."

Strauss denied there was any tension within the England squad about players appearing in the IPL, though he did admit there was a balance to find to ensure the team enjoyed the best preparation ahead of the series against West Indies. "We've become very comfortable with the fact the ICC have given our players a window to play in the IPL and that window stipulates those games have to have enough time to prepare properly for our next Test series," Strauss said. "We all know where we stand. I certainly won't stand in the way of players who want to play. But, with my Test captain's hat on, I want to make sure they have enough time to prepare for the West Indies Tests next summer. We're all comfortable with that."

The series may have been decided, but England retain plenty of motivation going into this game. For a start, they are "desperate" in Andrew Strauss' words, to avoid the humiliation of a 3-0 whitewash. They have not suffered such an indignity since the 2006-07 Ashes and, before that, the 1992-93 series in India. Such a result here would feel like a particular humiliation for the top-ranked side.

In 2010, when Pakistan was tarnished by the corruption scandal few would have suggested that, less than two years later, Misbah would be the man at the helm of a resurgent Test side

They are also keen to denounce their poor record in Asia. Excluding Tests against Bangladesh, England have won just one of their last 19 Tests in Asia and that was back in March 2006, when they defeated India in Mumbai. If England are to travel to Sri Lanka with any realistic confidence, they need to show some signs of improvement. While they could point to the first three innings of the Abu Dhabi Test as evidence of progress, the manner in which the game finished - England spun away for just 72 - superseded the earlier positive signs.

Pakistan, by contrast, approach this game in good spirits. They are aiming to complete just the fifth series clean-sweep (three matches or more) in their history and their first against England. It would also be the first time they have done so outside Pakistan. They have one selection decision to make - Aizaz Cheema and Wahab Riaz are both vying for the second seamer's spot that was filled by Junaid Khan in Abu Dhabi - but go into this Test looking as settled and calm as any Pakistan team in many years.

Perhaps their most remarkable achievement in this series has been exorcising the ghost of spot-fixing. Almost anyway. While talk of the subject has slowly ebbed away over the last few weeks, the release of Mohammad Amir from prison on Wednesday prompted renewed interest. Misbah-ul-Haq, typically, blocked any questions on the issue with the straightest of bats, stating that: "Such incidents are always sad, but you cannot do anything about it." Strauss, in similar mood, was also reluctant to be drawn on the issue but did suggest that "the deterrent should be very strong to stop these guys doing this again."

Misbah was happier talking about the causes of Pakistan's success, crediting a strong team spirit and continuity of selection as the key factors. "If you look two years back, you can say it was an inexperienced side with a lot of young players," he said. "Now they have played almost two years, getting experience, getting mature and gelling well in the team. Everybody knows each other well, understands the game and their responsibilities and what he has to do for the team. That's the main thing for improvement in Pakistan cricket. As you play together and you keep playing against good sides you improve."

Victory in this Test would complete a remarkable rehabilitation for Misbah and his side. In 2010, when Pakistan cricket was tarnished by the corruption scandal and Misbah was omitted from a 35-man preliminary squad, few would have suggested that, less than two years later, he would be the man at the helm of a resurgent Test side. But now on the eve of the final Test of the series, few would doubt his team's ability to complete the clean sweep.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • zenboomerang on February 4, 2012, 4:09 GMT

    @JG2704 :- "with only 2 seam bowlers is risk of overloading the work on Anderson/Broad which could lead to injury or burnout"... Yes & with a heavy schedule this year & 2 series on flat decks, losing either bowler could be decisive to a series on the SC let alone SA in Eng... Good to hear that Bresnan in back bowling in the nets... Ryan Harris did well in SL last year but broke down - we were lucky to win that series & draw in SA...

  • JG2704 on February 3, 2012, 11:13 GMT

    @Nutcutlet on (February 02 2012, 14:15 PM GMT) I feel England are ok about dropping bowlers but not so big about dropping batsmen. Take the last Ashes tour when they dropped Finn who I believe was at the time the leading wicket taker in the series. By dropping Morgan for Finn they'd be changing the formation and therefore would not have to worry so much about hurting Morgan's feelings whereas dropping Morgan for Bopara in a like for like move might. I'm sure Miller pre tour said he'd play 5 bowlers if the circumstances were suitable. Seems like a load of BS to me.

  • JG2704 on February 3, 2012, 11:13 GMT

    @the_blue_android on (February 02 2012, 17:52 PM GMT) You're right. We never stop playing tests in Australia and SA

  • JG2704 on February 3, 2012, 11:13 GMT

    @Peterincanada on (February 02 2012, 18:12 PM GMT) - I'm sure you like the sound of what you are saying , but re Australia. Would you care to look up their record for the 1st 6 years (95-2001) of being nr1 (or even 1st 3 years) and compare it to England's record to date and work out the win ratio etc? Of course you could airbrush the 4 series defeats in that period in the SC (1 vs SL and 3 vs India)

  • JG2704 on February 3, 2012, 11:13 GMT

    @cricket_fan_1980 on (February 03 2012, 02:50 AM GMT) You are right. However they have been playing in UAE for long enough to call it home in terms of the familiarity they have with the conditions etc. All credit to them though , I believe they've raised their game quite considerably

  • JG2704 on February 3, 2012, 11:12 GMT

    @zenboomerang on (February 03 2012, 03:06 AM GMT) Agree. During the 2010/11 Ashes series , Finn was dropped - despite I think being the leading wicket taker at the time. I just wonder if the management feel that bowlers can almost switch their form on and off at any time ? I see they are playing the same team again which could be seen as showing faith to the batsmen they have out there. I see it as not being proactive and they should have tried a 5 man bowling attack. There is nothing to say they can't change it back to 6/1/4 at any point. The other possibility with only 2 seam bowlers is risk of overloading the work on Anderson/Broad which could lead to injury or burnout. I know our seam dept is our best asset , but lose either of these on top of CT and TB and we're suddenly looking much thinner in that dept too

  • rahulcricket007 on February 3, 2012, 7:04 GMT

    @buggsy . keep dreaming mate , during aus tour of sl , dilshan was captain( & he doesn't know how to captain a team 3rd odi b/w sl & sa was primary example where he didn't even know about d/l rule ) & aus players like hussey , clarke , ponting are good players of spin .does your eng have anybody except trott who can play spin bowling . we see in india in odis how good are you kp , bell against spinners (even ravindra jadeja a part time bowler was troubling them) , sl have herath , mendis , randiv who can bamboozle english batting .also about our india don't worry , indian plan is simple . bat first make 500+(which we can make in indian tracks) & destroy oppsition on turning 4th & 5th day pitch .

  • U_Cricket on February 3, 2012, 6:07 GMT

    @5wombats - u need some reality . Let's see if we can make some helpful changes to take into account England real performance huh... 1 win out of 19 test matches in Asia I mean oneeeeee. Do I need to remind u one say performance. 3 whitewash in Asia two back to back by india and one by SL and lost to Ireland and Bangladesh in WC. This says everything.

  • salman_ak on February 3, 2012, 6:01 GMT

    @subbass, Dear friend get your records straight, Pakistan did a lot better in English conditions. First they played a home series against Australia in England which they managed to draw 1-1, then they lost to England 3-1 and 3-2 in odi's. Pakistan drew the test series against Kiwis and won the odi series against them. Pakistan did a far better job than so called world champions. Pakistan has come out of many hardships and performing like a tiger. I know its a bitter pill to swallow but at least be honest in your comments.

  • dummy4fb on February 3, 2012, 5:27 GMT

    @Subass.for your kind information..its not our home where we are playing right now.England got a support from yhe crowd aswell. Playing abroad has became out habbit now.your team team is number one but cant play spin?come on..this is not the excuse.no.1 team can win anywhere against any team. Time will tell us if what going to happen if we go england..remember we are not home tigers.

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