Pakistan v England, 1st ODI, Abu Dhabi February 12, 2012

England need to defy history


Rarely can two teams so closely positioned in the ICC rankings have entered a series with one side so overwhelmingly fancied to win. Pakistan, fifth in the ICC ODI rankings, are expected to thrash England, sixth in the ODI rankings, in the four-match series that begins in Abu Dhabi on Monday. Some are already predicting a whitewash.

It is not hard to understand why. While Pakistan have won their last six ODI series, their last seven ODIs and 13 of their last 14, England have lost their last five. Indeed, England have won only five of their last 20 ODIs played outside the UK and, since December 12, 2005, England have won just 12 of 38 ODIs in Asia. Four of those victories came against Bangladesh and the Netherlands. Indeed, since 1987 - yes, 1987 - and excluding games against Bangladesh, England have won just one two-nation limited-overs series in Asia. Several of England's squad - Steven Finn among them - were not even born at the time.

Furthermore, Pakistan whitewashed England 3-0 in the recently concluded Test series. England's batting was woefully fragile against spin and it is anticipated that Pakistan will play a maximum of two seamers. It is possible they may even play five spinners. From an England perspective, such statistics do not justify much optimism.

Scratch beneath the surface of those statistics, however, and the picture is not so clear. Not quite so clear, anyway. England have actually won nine of their last 12 ODI series, including the last one against Pakistan. In the 2011 English season, they defeated both World Cup finalists - India and Sri Lanka - and, until the 5-0 thrashing they took in India, they seemed to be on a gentle upward curve.

Perhaps they may not prove quite the pushover some are predicting.

In many ways, Alastair Cook offers a microcosm of England's reputation. Cook, England's 50-over captain since their almost ritual humiliation at the 2011 World Cup, has received a great deal of criticism in recent times. A plethora of former players - the likes of Ian Botham, Mike Atherton and Dermot Reeve - have questioned not just his captaincy ability, but his right to a place in the side as a batsman. For evidence they cite Cook's ODI career-strike rate of 78.98, which is low for an opening batsman in this era, and his sometimes ponderous Test batting.

Again, the more recent statistics tell a slightly different story. In the home series against India and Sri Lanka, Cook scored 467 runs at a strike-rate of 95.89 and an average of 58.37. By any standards, those are impressive statistics. Even in India, where he averaged just 26.60, his strike-rate was 84.71. It means that, since he was appointed captain, his batting average is 46.15 and his strike-rate is 93.16.

Cook, like England, have had one bad series. The encounter with Pakistan may allow clearer conclusions to be drawn.

One man who will not be helping England, in the first match at least, is Jos Buttler, the 21-year-old Somerset batsman. He had been pencilled in for a place in England's middle order but will not be available for selection as his hand injury has not healed sufficiently. The injury will be monitored over the next day or two before a decision is made whether Buttler should be sent home.

Indeed, since 1987 - yes, 1987 - and excluding games against Bangladesh, England have won just one two-nation limited-overs series in Asia.

Pakistan's team is unlikely to differ too much from that which defeated Afghanistan on Friday night. It is possible Wahab Riaz could be dropped for another spinner, probably Abdur Rehman, or that Shoaib Malik will make way. Either way, it is likely that spin will be introduced very early - possibly from the start. Mohammad Hafeez, Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal will form a formidable trio at the very least.

One of Pakistan's strengths is the presence of three decent allrounders in their side. Afridi's batting may not be the force it once was, but he is still a dangerous player capable of turning a game with bat or ball within a few overs. Hafeez, too, provides bowling depth, while Umar Akmal, by no means the finished article as a wicketkeeper, is a very fine batsman to find himself as low as No. 7 in the order.

Perhaps there is just one, small concern for Pakistan. While their current squad looks ideally suited to conditions in the UAE, it may prove less well balanced in Australasia, where the 2015 World Cup will be contested. Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan's captain, said it was "too early to think about the 2015 World Cup" and that it was better for the team "to concentrate day by day. We have to bring in some youngsters for long-term planning, but we are doing it day by day."

Misbah said the use of two new balls - one from each end - should minimise the affect of dew, but did warn against over confidence from his players. "Sometimes confidence is harmful for the team," he said. "We have to guard that." Over confidence, at least, should not be a problem for England.

England's policy is somewhat puzzling. They talk of fresh faces and building for the 2015 but their side in this game will be strikingly similar to the ones that have played over the last year or so. It is just in a slightly different order. Indeed, had Eoin Morgan and Stuart Broad not missed the series in India due to injury, England's side would be identical.

If England do lose, they may also have cause to reflect on their preparation for this series. The standard of net bowling has been well below the required standard while, for reasons that remain unclear, their warm-up game against England Lions was a day time encounter despite the fact that the series will be contested under lights. As a consequence, England are unsure how dew could affect conditions.

While Cook said that England had "tried" to stage the warm-up game under lights, he complained that England "don't have control over the wicket and groundsman and stuff." The ground authorities and PCB insisted both sides had "agreed on the schedule mutually… well in advance." A spokesman commented: "If there had been a wish from ECB for a day-night fixture it would have been addressed."

Cook, at least, took encouragement from necessity. "The one-day game dictates you have to be more positive," Cook said. "We're not going to have men around the bat all the time so it changes your mentality as a batter. It frees you up and we've got a good record against Pakistan."

To listen to some pundits, you would think that England's best hope in this series is to avoid humiliation. Cricket would not be nearly such an absorbing game, however, if it was predictable.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on February 14, 2012, 15:59 GMT

    Team Pakistan's selectors / management / board / higher authorities have to think now more in PRESENT rather than settling down for typical series settlement.. If we know that the pitch is helping spinners and our spinners are doing tremendously well and our pacers are not performing good so what is the problem in realising that we should go with two specialist spinners and two supporting.. none other then Afridi and Hafeez.. England atlast got the gentle smile of Goddess of Luck and she blessed them with first win after 6 innings :) but now we've to think over our mistakes before we parished against them 0 - 4..

  • Dummy4 on February 14, 2012, 15:51 GMT

    Our batting is undoubtly in trouble and that is all through the test series.. I've discussed that earlier and i'd like to brief it now that we need another full time spinner now replacing shoaib malik because there is no need of one extra batsman when your other 7 specialist are collapsing yet another time since test series.. we need our spinning to be more fortified.. we need Rehman back!! and further Imran Farhat has no justified place now.. he should be replaced with Abdul Razzaq who can fire his guns with bat and can swing the ball too.. but atleast he can pitch the ball in right areas in contrary to stupidity done by Wahab Riyaz.. If we went into 2nd ODI with same combination unchanged. IT WILL BE SUBTITUTE TO SUICIDE for us and i believe that our this ODI series is in danger..

  • Ian on February 13, 2012, 16:11 GMT

    Patel and Bopara aren't international standard cricketers! Think we'll win this one though.

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2012, 15:42 GMT

    If we loose today's match by any means, that'll be the pace department which will be only responsible by giving away too many runs, remaining wicket less, worst economy rates.. Abdul Razzaq should be prefered over Shoaib Malik now!. I don't know when will we be able enough to consume our resources in appropriate manner without wasting time.. BPL is currently using 17 pakistani players.. i questioned why they were not selected for playing 11 or selected 16? If they were'nt worth enough than why BPL selected them? It is called talent drain and nothing else.. Damn!!!. Best of luck Pakistan for the 1st ODI!!!

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2012, 15:21 GMT

    See the lack of Abdul Rehman yourself!! It could've been England All out and even might be way before 200 or just 200 plus if Abdul Rehman would be there.. Wahab Riaz's addition didn't payed up well as Gul / Riyaz combination given away 100 runs for just 15 overs at an economy rate of 6.70, that is terrible enough to narrate the facts itself.. also Wahab was only culprit for five of the six extra runs given with 4wds + 1nb. In contrary to that Spinners played really well and as far as wicket taking duo is concerned Afridi + Ajmal gave away 98 runs and taken 7 wickets in 20overs and overall spin department was also very decent, Hafeez bowled 10overs and given away only 30 runs at an economy rate of 3.0 per over and Malik with 5 overs 21 runs given.. which tells the overall spinner's story of 149 / 7 in 35 overs with just one extra conceeded.. It is stats / conclusive enough for our selectors / management to rethink the justification of another pacer!! and up Abdul Rehman straight away..

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2012, 14:20 GMT

    Aspect of Pakistan's advantage over England proven wrong with current England performance, even as a Pakistani i would say that they've really learnt from their mistakes and driven the total upto 200 plus with only 4 wickets down.. as i'm writing this article Pakistan has taken two quick scalps in no time to leave England 230/6 as Captain got out after playing true captain's knock.. What i want to remind is!! see.. all 6 wickets taken by spinners Shahid Khan Afridi : 2 wkts Saeed Ajmal : 4 wkts Muhammad Hafeez & Shoaib Malik remains wicketless but maintains decent economy rate of 3.0 and 4.20 vise versa.. On the other hand Pace Attack was counterattacked by English Batsmen and not only they remained wicketless but their economy rates were Umer Gul : 5.71, Wahab Riaz : 6.37.. I don't have any idea why another pacer is introduced in the squad when spinner squad of Ajmal / Rehman / Hafeez & Afridi is/will be doing tremendous..

  • Manesh on February 13, 2012, 11:47 GMT

    this series will give another whitewash for England in ODIs. But they will be at the receiving ends :P. Thus the Fast track bullies will be at the end of the ODI rankings table!!

  • khurram on February 13, 2012, 10:04 GMT

    i dont get this. why r there such articles which shows that pak is way strong. i m pak fan want them to win 4-0 but odi is diffrent game on the day any team can win. so writting such articles which shows tht pak is way superiror than england is no way justice. i think reason is that if england lose they will say told you. if england win couple of games they will say ohh they acheived heights of k2? otherwise odi is the game on day.

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2012, 9:23 GMT

    I believe Hammad Azam should be chose instead of Malik. While, Wahab Riaz should be dropped for Abdur Rehman. In this way, we'll have another spin option and we can also give proper time to Azam to adjust in international cricket. Given that a medium pace batting allrounder is needed by the team to replace the underperforming Razzaq.

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2012, 9:20 GMT

    but one should not forget that even the whitewashed side has bowled you out on 99/10 once.. crumbled you many times in the 3 test matches series.. Let me remind it for us! 1. 3rd Test Match 1st innings .. 99 all out 2. 3rd Test Match 2nd innings.. 365 all out fact: 331/3 to 365/10 thats means, crumbled last 7 wickets for 34 runs. 3. 2nd Test Match 1st innings.. 257 all out fact: last 5 wickets made 9 runs, in which last four wickets scored 0. Another crumble!.

    The only thing with which we survive another terrors and over whemingly won the series 3 to 0 was Spinners awesome bowling and England's hard luck and our good luck(which helped us winning the series).. Fact file: We bowled out England all 6 times they came in for batting, that means we took atleast 60 wickets in the series. Lets see some facts..

    Spinners: Saeed Ajmal: 24wkts Abdul Rehman: 19 wkts Muhammad Hafeez: 5wkts Total : 48 wkts / 80%

    Pacers: Umer Gul: 11 wkts Aizaz Cheema: 1wkt Junaid Khan: 0wkt Total : 12 wkts / 20%

  • No featured comments at the moment.