Pakistan vs England 2015, 1st Test at Abu Dhabi, Preview: Confident hosts look to re-enact 2012 script with new heroes
England’s bowling has a lot of potential and experience, but it is not certain that they will do well in UAE conditions.
England will take on Pakistan in the first of a three-match Test series at Abu Dhabi, with the hope to display a more respectable show against the spin duo of Yasir Shah and Zulfiqur Babar than they could manage against Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman on their previous visit in 2012. The absence of Ajmal and Rehman will provide England with only mild psychological relief as Yasir and Babar are of equal competence as they proved against a high-flying Australia in 2014 beating them in both Tests. SCORECARD: Pakistan vs England 2015, 1st Test at Abu Dhabi
England will however take heart from the fact that New Zealand — also a team unfamiliar to the spin conditions in UAE — pulled off a spectacular one-all draw in their three-match series following Australia’s trip there. To start things off, it is going to be vital for England to enter the first game with a clean psychological slate. Any chink in confidence will facilitate their demolition at the hands of the spinners. ALSO READ: Shan Masood’s career-defining series could come during Pakistan vs England 2015 at UAE
In the batting department it is more crucial than usual for the captain Alastair Cook to lead the charge from the front. Being an opener-captain, the team will look up to him for inspiration in the difficult combat on the dry UAE surfaces. Fortunately for England, Cook seemed on an upward curve on the return to his best in the preceding series’ against West Indies and Australia. Needless to say a gritty knock by him upfront will give the team the belief that they can conquer the spin demons in the pitch. ALSO READ: My best is yet to come, says Yasir Shah
Similarly, as a senior member, it will be vitally important for Ian Bell to perform. His interests in a good performance extend to beyond team’s interests in the remaining part of the England team in future assignments. It could well be the last time he plays for England if he fails. His performances have dipped badly in the recent past and he’ll be aware that selectors will be scrutinising him with a hawk-eye.
Apart from that Joe Root will be defining block in England’s batting. He has been a fine performer and is recognised as one of four young cricketers globally (alongside Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Steven Smith) to carry the baton of good batsmanship into the next era. His test against spin will assess his readiness for such a task.
It is still uncertain who of Moeen Ali and Alex Hales will open with Cook. Moeen has previously batted in the position in Tests without much success and Hales is yet to make his in the whites. That will be a crucial call for the selectors. In their tour games both batsmen were failures in the position. It is likely that England will give Moeen the go ahead. It will be interesting to see how guys like Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler respond to these conditions.
In comparison, Pakistan have no serious batting woes. The openers spot has many suitors in Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez and Shan Masood. Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq and wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed make for an enviable middle order batting line up. Moreover Yasir is capable of a few runs in the lower order as it pacer Wahab Riaz. However, there are questions over the availability of Azhar for the opening Test.
Pakistan’s bowling is a similarly wholesome unit in these conditions. The main spin duo of Yasir and Zulfiqur has backing from part timers like Hafeez and Azhar. The pace bowling unit including Wahab Riaz, Imran Khan, Junaid Khan and Rahat Ali are capable of taking wickets even on the UAE tracks. ALSO READ: Pakistan formidable despite absence of England’s spin tormentors from last series
England’s bowling has a lot of potential and experience, but it is not certain that they will do well in UAE conditions. Moeen did well in the warm up games and troubled the Aussies in the Ashes with his gentle but clever off spin even on English surfaces. He’ll relish the opportunity to bowl on pitches with greater assistance for his discipline. Leg-spinner Adil Rashid has been praised for his exploits in the county circuit but didn’t do too well in the practice games in UAE. Samit Patel also finds his name on the sheet but it is not likely he will get a chance in the first Test.
England’s pace battery includes high-profile names in James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and also the talented Liam Plunkett along with fresh faces like Mark Wood and Stokes. While the attack fared well in the home Ashes, UAE pitches are different beasts with lessened support for pace bowlers. It is likely that a few of them at least will undergo unrewarding toil on non-assistive surfaces against a quality batting. England on the whole will have to bring their A+ game to pull off a win in the series-opener.
Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (c), Ahmed Shehzad, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, Mohammad Hafeez, Fawad Alam, Asad Shafiq, Younis Khan, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Yasir Shah, Zulfiqar Babar, Wahab Riaz, Imran Khan, Rahat Ali, Junaid Khan.
England: Alastair Cook (c), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Zafar Ansari, Jonny Bairstow, Ian Bell, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler (wk), Steven Finn, Alex Hales (wk), Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, James Taylor, Mark Wood.
Time: 10:00 local | 11.00 IST | 06:00 GMT
(Rishad D’Souza, a reporter with CricketCountry, gave up hopes of playing Test cricket after a poor gully-cricket career. He now reports on the sport. You can follow @RDcric on Twitter)