Three-match series chance to push World T20 claims
November 26, 2015
Start time 8.00pm local (1600GMT)
England are on a three-match winning streak in T20, but those matches have been spread over more than a year. Since being humbled by Netherlands in their final outing of the 2014 World T20 they have played just four games but are already on the countdown to the next global event which will take place in India during March.
So it was not without good reason that Reece Topley pinpointed the three-match series against Pakistan as both a rare and vital chance to hone skills ahead of India. For the likes of Topley, new to international cricket, it is a chance to further press his claims for a place in the final 15-man squad while for more senior figures the matches are an opportunity to focus on the shortest form for more than just a day or two.
Pakistan have frequented the format much more regularly than England with 11 matches since the last World T20 - they have also played more T20s (92) than any other side since the format began internationally. They are on a run of six matches unbeaten against a combination of Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka so this series gives them a chance to put a poor one-day series behind them.
The Pakistan squad is an interesting collection of inexperienced players such as Aamir Yamin and Bilal Asif, experienced veterans in Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez, those who just play T20s in Shahid Afridi and Sohail Tanvir and the wildcard of uncapped 39-year-old Rafatullah Mohmand. The shortest format could just be what Pakistan need to free themselves of their ODI malaise.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Boom Boom is back. Shahid Afridi remains part of Pakistan's T20 set-up - as captain, no less - and cricket is rarely dull when he is involved. He has just two wickets in seven matches this year, but England will need to be wary of his skidding legbreaks. The batting is even more hit-and-miss but his 45 off 22 balls against Sri Lanka in Colombo was a reminder of what he can do when the mood takes him. And one thing you can be sure of is that the noise level will go up a few notches whenever he has bat or ball in hand.
When it comes to the white ball, at least, Jos Buttler is well and truly back in form after his scintillating 52-ball 116 in the final ODI. Key to that innings was his promotion to No. 4, which gave him 13 overs to make the most of the platform laid by the top order - even if the results were more than anyone could have imagined. England are not short on clean strikers but they will want to make sure they give Buttler the optimum chance to make an impact.
Pakistan have Umar Akmal available after he was cleared of any wrongdoing by the PCB while they are likely to give the 39-year-old Rafatullah his debut at the top of the order. Yasir Shah and Zafar Gohar are not part of the T20 squad so Bilal Asif could come into the side as another spin option alongside Afridi and Malik. Anwar Ali struggled with the ball during the ODIs and could be under pressure for his spot.
Pakistan (possible) 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Rafatullah Mohmand, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Umar Akmal, 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Bilal Asif, 9 Anwar Ali, 10 Wahab Riaz, 11 Mohammad Irfan
In England's previous T20, against Australia in Cardiff, Joe Root was rested which meant Moeen Ali slotted in at No. 3 and he responded with a career-best 72 off 46 balls so it will be an interesting decision to see how the pack is shuffled now that Root is available again. James Vince could make his debut but beyond the openers it is likely that England's order will be very fluid depending on the match situation. Liam Plunkett has been on the tour throughout and Chris Jordan since the first Test, when he replaced Steven Finn, but both are still waiting for their first full appearance in the UAE. They may have to wait a bit longer.
England (possible) 1 Alex Hales, 2 Jason Roy, 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Jos Buttler (wk), 6 James Vince, 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 David Willey, 11 Reece Topley
Pitch and conditions
There was drizzle in Dubai on Wednesday which meant England had to train at the ICC Academy rather than the main ground but the forecast is fine for match day. The pitch in the ODI was the best for the batting of that series so it bodes well for a free-scoring encounter.
Stats and trivia
- The two teams have met 10 times in T20s with England leading 7-3
- Four of Pakistan's squad - Hafeez, Malik, Akmal and Afridi - are among the 20 players to have scored 1000 T20 runs. That is the most for any country
- The only team to have played fewer T20s than England since the last World T20 is Papua New Guinea
"We have won the last six games. We did make small mistakes, but we are going through a process and are trying some new players.''
Shahid Afridi has been impressed with Pakistan's learning curve in T20
"Our strategy is quite simple - to continue testing ourselves, our ability, regardless of any situation we play. We are trying to test our boundaries and capabilities as players."
Eoin Morgan has urged his players to keep pushing themselves
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo