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Monday, 16 January 2012

England's First True Test Since Crowning

Pakistan cricket has been known for it’s bowling strengths, atleast  since I was a boy. They are the true pioneers of reverse swing, the doosra and the 100mph delivery! Pakistan have regularly produced good seamers and spinners, who in the worst of times and even in alien conditions, have never really allowed oppositions to get away without a contest. Things are no different in the upcoming contest against England.

The series starting tomorrow in Dubai will be England’s first big test, since being crowned champions of test cricket in August 2011. The Pakistan bowling unit will undoubtedly be England’s biggest worry.  With bowlers like Saeed Ajmal, who is playing the ultimate mind-game of the “teesra” (the third one; or yet another one, if you translate the “doosra” as the other one), England’s batting will be tested.  The orthodox slow left-armer, Abdur Rehman, and the competent all-rounder, Mohammed Hafeez, will add to the pressure, forming the best spin trio in test cricket at this point. The seam attack, led by the experienced war-horse Umar Gul, with the young left-arm medium pacer, Junaid Khan, at the other end, will be quite a handful too. And there are more options that Pakistan have on the bench.
England are a very competent batting line up, and have been working hard in training to adapt to the conditions of slow low turning tracks that can be expected in the UAE. Ian Bell, Kevin Pieterson, Jonathan Trott and Andrew Strauss are particularly good players of spin bowling. Nimble footwork and using the depth of the crease become particularly important against good spinners. This is not to discount Alistair Cook, Eoin Morgan or Ravi Bopara, who certainly add to the batting resources that England will or could call upon.

England are struggling with injury niggles in the seam department, with the latest scare regarding Stuart Broad. However, with the spin of Graeme Swann and the option of Monty Panesar, one can expect James Anderson and Steven Finn to be quite a handful. As per latest updates, Stuart Broad might take the field tomorrow, giving the side the required balance.
Truly speaking, the Pakistan batting has not been tested by a world class bowling attack in a while. The middle gets its strength from the experienced Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq, and young Asad Shafiq. The pair at the top has been rather reliable over 2011, Mohammed Hafeez and Taufeeq Umar, with the sparkling talent of Azhar Ali, playing one drop. Pakistan batting will need to work hard to put enough runs on the board, to allow their bowlers to have a real go at the English batsmen.  

In recent times, Pakistan have entrusted captaincy to 37 year old, Misbah-ul-Haq, who despite a brilliant run as skipper, has come under criticism for defensive play by the media and the fans. In times of rebuilding, it is critical to close the door on losses first. Full credit to Misbah, who has taken the reins late in his career, clearly mandated to getting Pakistan cricket back to even keel, and to nurture a potential successor.
The shadow of the spot-fixing saga which clouded the last series between these two teams, has to be lifted with combative cricket in the desert. The series promises much and will undoubtedly deliver. It will be a true contest. In the conditions, I give the edge to Pakistan over England.

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