Aizaz Cheema, the Pakistan fast bowler, has said Pakistan will have the advantage of being more used to conditions similar to those in the UAE when they take on England there later this month. The pitches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are generally slow and batsman-friendly but Cheema said they were not too different from those in Pakistan and therefore he was confident of taking wickets on them.
"Through my life I have played on similar pitches and I earned my place in the national side with the wickets I took on them," Cheema said after the second day of Pakistan's training camp in Lahore. "The conditions won't make a difference to me. I have pace but the main thing is being disciplined in my bowling. If I hit the right line and length it will be a problem for any batsman.
"I will try not to give runs in any spell I bowl and will try to take wickets. Our experience of the conditions is more than theirs because there is not much difference in the tracks in Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates."
Cheema only played in one of the Tests during the three-Test series against Sri Lanka in the UAE last year, with Pakistan picking two spinners for the matches in Dubai and Sharjah. He will face further competition for his place this series with Wahab Riaz, the left-arm quick, returning to the squad. Cheema has impressed since earning his Test cap days before his 32nd birthday. He picked up eight wickets on debut in Zimbabwe and nine over the two Tests in Bangladesh in December last year, and has hit speeds up to 145kph. He recognised, however, that the England batting line-up was filled with quality players and that the series against the World No. 1 Test side would be a stiff challenge.
"I can't pick one name from the England line-up whom I am targeting because on the whole the England side is a quality side. I will try to dismiss whoever comes in."
Pakistan went through 2011 without losing a Test series, and go into this series after beating Zimbabwe away, Sri Lanka in the UAE and Bangladesh away. Cheema said they had not allowed themselves to become complacent, and he and some of the other players had started training just two days after returning from the tour of Bangladesh. "We are doing extensive hard work. Many of us started training just two days after we came back from Bangladesh. The camp in Lahore is helping us keep our rhythm and avoid becoming complacent."
Pakistan have recalled Umar Akmal for the three-Test series against England after leaving him out of the Tests against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Umar continued to do well in the limited-overs formats but after repeated failures in Tests, the selectors suggested he go back to domestic cricket and learn how to play long innings. Mohsin Khan, the chief selector and interim coach, said Umar needed to "stop being selfish", and convert starts into important knocks. Umar, who averaged 71.00 in the six innings he played in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy Division Two, said he would not stop playing his shots but would try to do a job for his team at the No. 6 position.
"I have played at No. 6 throughout my career, and I enjoy playing under pressure. When you take the team out of a pressure situation, only then can you be called a player for your country.
"Nobody is stopping me from playing my shots but I am trying to play according to the situation and I feel there's a lot of improvement in my batting."
Umar will find it hard to displace Asad Shafiq from the XI after Shafiq scored a century in Chittagong, but if given a chance said he would concentrate on contributing to the team's cause rather than looking for big scores.
"I will try to give 100%. At the number at which I am playing it's rare to score big totals. You usually get around 50, 60, 70; whatever I can contribute to the total is an achievement for me. When I get promoted up the order, only then can I try to score hundreds."
The first Test between Pakistan and England starts January 17 in Abu Dhabi.