England set for first Sharjah Test
England will play a Test in Sharjah for the first time after the schedule for their tour of UAE to face Pakistan in October and November was confirmed. The team will fly out to the Middle East just two weeks after the one-day series against Australia concludes.
The trip will include three Tests, which begins on October 13 in Abu Dhabi, followed by matches in Dubai and Sharjah. The Tests will be followed by four ODIs from November 11 to 20, before the tour concludes with a three-match T20 series held between November 26 and 30.
The confirmation of the tour schedule had faced delay due to tensions created by the links between Ten Sports, the host broadcaster, and the Essel Group, which has threatened to form a breakaway international league. ESPNcricinfo understands that pressure had been applied by the BCCI on other cricket boards not to play any series in which Ten Sports are the host broadcaster after the PCB recently signed a five-year deal with them.
On England's previous visit to UAE to play Pakistan - during which Pakistan whitewashed the Test series 3-0 but lost both the ODI and T20 contests - the internationals were split between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but Sharjah returned as a Test venue in November 2011, nine years after it had previously hosted matches, and has since hosted matches involving Sri Lanka and New Zealand.
The last time England played an international at the venue was during a triangular series in 1999 which formed an odd build-up to that year's World Cup, which was held in England. On this tour, they will also play an ODI and a T20 at the ground.
The tour will be Trevor Bayliss' first overseas assignment with England and one of his main challenges will be to try and ensure his team do not flounder against spin as they did on the previous trip in early 2012. England, who were the No. 1 ranked Test team at the time, were flummoxed by the spin of Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman as the pair shared 43 wickets across the three Tests.
England may not face either on this trip - Ajmal has not played Test cricket since returning from remodelling his bowling action and is currently not involved in any format for Pakistan, while Rehman has not played internationals for a year - but the current spinners, legspinner Yasir Shah and left-armer Zulfiqar Babar, have enjoyed considerable success.
The pair caused Australia significant problems in the series in the UAE last year. Yasir, in particular, has 61 wickets in 10 Tests after claiming 24 at 19.33 in the recent series in Sri Lanka.
Following the conclusion of the tour, England will return home for a short period before leaving for South Africa - another full tour which includes four Tests, five ODIs and two T20s. That will be followed by the World Twenty20 in India during March.
England's red-ball and white-ball teams have now diverged to such a point that there are very few players that appear in all formats, but the likes of Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and perhaps Moeen Ali could be expected to be first choice for Tests, ODIs and T20s, and may require careful handling from the management.
With inputs from Umar Farooq
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo