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February 18, 2010
Match factsFebruary 19 and 20 2010
Big PictureWhile the tentacles of Twenty20 cricket wrap ever more firmly around the world game, Pakistan meet England in a hastily arranged two-match series that will show just where the two sides lie ahead of the World Twenty20 which starts at the end of April in the Caribbean.
Coming off the back of success in the 50-over series against South Africa, there are flickering signs that England's new gung-ho approach to the shorter format can bear fruit. Yet there is a lingering suspicion that, while their batting has depth, it lacks the match-winning class of someone like Yuvraj Singh in this format. However, Kevin Pietersen possesses an ability that can inspire and frustrate in equal measure and in Eoin Morgan they have one of the brightest prospects in limited-overs cricket.
It's their bowling that looks more vulnerable, lacking decisive pace for the slower wickets in Dubai. You feel Stuart Broad, Ryan Sidebottom, Tim Bresnan and Luke Wright may lack the variety and bite to threaten a free-hitting Pakistan team. It's the spinners, however, who have proved crucial in Twenty20 cricket and Graeme Swann is one of the best in the business.
For their part, Pakistan desperately need a positive result from these games after their drubbing in Australia. With the World Twenty20 just over two months away, the repercussions of the disastrous Australian tour are still being felt. Kamran Akmal, vice-captain in Australia, has been dropped, and his comments to the press ahead of the Hobart Test are being investigated by a board evaluation committee.
They are also currently without a chief selector, Iqbal Qasim having stood down, and travelled to Dubai without Coach Intikhab Alam, who has been summoned instead to answer questions over the rout in Australia. Their captain, Shahid Afridi, is in the midst of a two-match ban for ball tampering, and significant changes have been made to the squad which toured Australia.
Obviously, there is a great deal of work to do if Pakistan are to successfully defend their World Twenty20 title in the West Indies, and though their form in this format has been good in recent times, these games provide a vital chance to build stability and find some confidence ahead of the tournament. Much will depend on how quickly the squad can get past the squabbles which arose in Australia, and gel as a unit.
Form guide (last 5 T20Is, most recent first)Pakistan LWWWW
Watch out forUmar Akmal, still not yet 20, is a precocious talent whose rapidly-rising stock has already given an indication of his importance to the future of Pakistan's batting. Possessed with aggression, fearlessness, and good technique, he has constructed significant innings in all three formats, and it is hard to believe he has only been playing international cricket for less than eight months. Akmal was the leading run-scorer in the one-day series whitewash in Australia, with 187 runs at 37.40, including two half-centuries. He was last man out as Pakistan choked in the solitary Twenty20 of that series, but the last time he played at Dubai's International Cricket Stadium he made a match-winning 56 not out against New Zealand on a difficult pitch.
If England's new-found flair for limited-over batting could be attributed to a single factor, Eoin Morgan is probably it. Known for dexterous flicks and reverse sweeps, it's his crisp hitting and uncluttered approach that has impressed most in his short England career. On the slower pitches in Dubai, his ability to find the boundary will be crucial for an England side that has a history of choking against good spin bowlers. His most dominating performances have come while setting a total but England may also need him to deliver in a run chase if they are to overcome the World Champions.
Team newsPakistan are a side in turmoil. In addition to the dropping of Kamran Akmal and Intikhab Alam's absence on this tour, Shahid Afridi is serving a two-match ban for the 'ball-biting' incident during the fifth ODI in Perth, which will keep him out of the first match. With Mohammad Asif still banned from entering the UAE, and uncertainty over Mohammad Aamer's recovery from the groin injury that ruled him out of the last three ODIs and the Twenty20 in Australia, one of either Yasir Arafat, Wahab Riaz or Mohammad Talha could play.
Pakistan: (probable) 1 Imran Nazir, 2 Imran Farhat, 3 Umar Akmal, 4 Shoaib Malik (capt), 5 Khalid Latif/Shahid Afridi, 6 Fawad Alam, 7 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 8 Abdul Razzaq, 9 Yasir Arafat, 10 Umar Gul, 11 Saeed Ajmal
Having watched Joe Denly falter again against the Lions, England would have been tempted to test Craig Kieswetter at the top of the order, after he completed a four-year qualification period on Tuesday. Yet it would be too much of a snub to the selected squad and captain Paul Collingwood confirmed he was backing Denly to come good with Jonathan Trott in the opening berth. With James Anderson resting his knee in Lancashire England's pace bowling will be led by Stuart Broad and Ryan Sidebottom but Graeme Swann will remain their linchpin.
England: (probable) 1 Jonathan Trott, 2 Joe Denly, 3 Kevin Pietersen, 4 Paul Collingwood, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Luke Wright, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Tim Bresnan, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Graeme Swann, 11 Ryan Sidebottom.
Pitch and conditionsWith both of these games day-night fixtures the players will at least avoid competing in the desert city at its hottest. Nevertheless we can expect shirt-soaking temperatures and a dry surface unlikely to offer much interest to the fast bowlers.
Stats and Trivia
Quotes"It's an opportunity to utilise the time before the World Twenty20. We have two matches against England and they are a good side. We have in our team some youngsters who are very talented and they are getting their opportunity. I'm hoping and I'm sure they will do well."
Shoaib Malik, Pakistan's stand-in captain, is hoping the new generation of players perform, with their side desparate for a win after a string of defeats to Australia.
"Pakistan are a very strong Twenty20 side and we're going to have to be right on our game to beat them. It might be a good time to play them, but you never quite know what you're going to get on the day so I think we've just got to concentrate on our own game and see what we get on the day."
England captain Paul Collingwood tries his best to avoid the 'mercurial' cliché.
Sahil Dutta and Liam Brickhill are assistant editors of CricinfoFeeds: Sahil Dutta
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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