After the high of the Ashes victory of the summer, England’s first taste of cricket this winter presents a very different challenge. They have travelled to Dubai to take on Pakistan in a three-match test series in their adopted homeland, and after being humbled 3-0 here in their last visit to the Middle East this confident side, led superbly by Alistair Cook, will need to show plenty of mettle to come away with a positive result.
Pakistan, shorn of the talents of their first-class spinner Yasir Shah due to injury, will still fancy their chances after such a dominant showing in the last encounter between the two sides.
Series Result Market
England will be delighted with the fact that their arch nemesis in that 2012 campaign, Saeed Ajmal, is absent after being banned by the ICC for an illegal bowling action. In the heat of the desert, and the crumbling nature of the pitches towards the latter stages of tests, spin bowlers become even more important. The Three Lions will be hoping that their pair of Moeen Ali and debutant Adil Rashid can come up with the goods.
That heat means that the pace bowlers’ workload will be well monitored, and this is the area where England far outstrip Pakistan, so that advantage has already been nullified. The likes of Jimmy Anderson will struggle to get the ball to swing in conventional fashion under clear blue skies, and again that will play into the Green Caps’ favour.
Very few test matches end in draws these days, such is the attacking nature of the game, and it has been to England’s detriment that they have been unable to ‘dig in’ when the chips have been down in the past.
It would take a brave punter to bet against Pakistan in the Middle East, but this England side comes into this series full of confidence after such a good summer. It could well end up 2-1 to either side; but you’d have to favour Pakistan, ultimately, to prevail.
Top Batsman Market
Pakistan have plenty of top class batting in their line-up, and will be looking to take advantage on slow, benign pitches. Skipper Misbah ul-Haq, despite approaching his 42nd birthday, has an incredible record in Abu Dhabi, with five centuries in seven tests at an average of 120.
He looks a good bet in the ‘Top Pakistan Batsman – Series’ market then, despite the good form of Mohammad Hafeez. Misbah’s ability to counter attack, as witnessed in his 56 ball century against Australia here, could prove to be England’s undoing.
Patience is a virtue for batsmen out here in the Middle East with its low, slow bounce and baking hot temperatures, and whilst the new ball will do a fraction it is the long spells from the spinners in the afternoon sessions that will largely determine this series. A batsman needs to get their eye in, get used to the conditions and then cash in.
From an English perspective, there is nobody better at that right now than Joe Root – the team’s best batsman in the last year or so – and he has developed to the extent that he can be backed to score big in pretty much any circumstances. The Yorkshireman looks to have the talent and temperament to play a good knock on the moon if required, so he should be backed to contribute the most runs to this English side.
Top Bowler Market
It is the spinners that will do the donkey work, of course, and Shah looks an absolute banker to be Pakistan’s leading wicket taker in this series despite missing this first test. In that series of 2012, England lost 49 of their 60 wickets to spin bowling; so back Shah at a more than generous price when he returns to the fold for the second test.
For England, there are doubts regarding Moeen’s ability to take wickets and Rashid – whilst looking a handy prospect – is making his test debut in this series and we cannot speculate whether he will sink or swim at this level.
Instead, plump for Ben Stokes to be England’s leading wicket taker. He possesses the ability to reverse swing the ball – a useful trait in the Middle East – and as a big strong boy he will bowl plenty of over whilst the likes of Anderson and Stuart Broad are given a much-needed rest.