England return to five-day action next week with the tour of Pakistan, ahead of four one-day internationals and three T20 games. After the glorious summer that saw England regain the Ashes from Australia 3-2 in a ding-dong series, and the re-invigoration of the one-day side with a new brand of attacking cricket, it would be easy to think that England are on the verge of becoming a cricket superpower again. However, Pakistan have become accustomed to spoiling English cricket’s collective party, and they pose a potent threat in the searing heat of the UAE.
England are currently engaged in two warm-up matches against Pakistan A as they acclimatize to conditions, and the first test begins on Tuesday 13th October at 7am GMT in Abu Dhabi as Pakistan continue to play in their ‘adopted’ home cricket nation. This will be followed by two further tests in Dubai from the 22nd of October, and Sharjah starting on the 1st of November, and we’ve previewed the series in more detail here.
England will go on to play four ODI’s and three T20 games over the course of November, but for now all eyes are focused on the warm-up games as England ponder their opening options.
Moeen Ali was given the nod to open the batting alongside Alastair Cook in the first of two two-day games with Pakistan A, and although he only made 22 his innings was described as “encouraging” by assistant coach Paul Farbrace. Ali has opened for Worcester and 20 times for England in ODI’s, but he’s never opened in a test and is up against Alex Hales for the starting berth against Pakistan.
That’s one of the issues England have to iron out in the next few days, and another is how they can support their ‘spin twin’, Ali and Adil Rashid.
The heat in UAE is stifling at the moment, which has been evident from the first practice match where England’s seamers were restricted to short spells of bowling. The pitches equally will play into the hands of spin bowlers, and Rashid in particular is very short on experience at this level. It will be a wonderful experience for the young bowler, and he could make a name for himself, but it’s hard to put too much expectation on him so early into his England career.
This has not been a happy hunting ground for England over the years, and it has often been the place they’ve been brought crashing back down to earth after glorious victories. After winning the Ashes in 2005 England were beaten 2-0, and after the Ashes triumph of 2012 they were beaten 3-0. In fact, England have lost 4 of their last 5 series away to Pakistan. With question marks over the impact of the spin bowlers and how well they can be supported with reverse swing, indecisiveness over the opening pairing, and conditions that don’t suit, there are plenty of reasons to swerve England despite the temptation to wade in at +250 .
Pakistan Spin Specialists
Pakistan on the other hand have conditions to suit perfectly, and they have the world class spinners to take advantage. In the recent ODI series in Zimbabwe right-arm leg-spinner Yasir Shah helped himself to 24 wickets and the ‘player of the series’ to boot. He will cause England’s batsmen all sorts of problems if they aren’t prepared to grind it out with the bat for long periods. England’s fledgling attacking game can’t work over five days in this heat and on these pitches, and Shah et al will test them in every way possible.
They won the three-match ODI series in Zimbabwe 2-1 as well as winning both T20 games, and should come into this series with plenty of confidence. They won the first ODI of that series by 131 runs with Shah taking six wickets and Rizwan top-scoring with 75 not-out. Zimbabwe won the 2nd ODI in controversial fashion by the Duckworth-Lewis method. Pakistan were chasing 277 with 256-8 on the scoreboard and two overs left, when umpires decided light was too poor to continue. They bounced back in good style in the final test, thumping Zimbabwe by seven wickets with Asif helping himself to five wickets for 25 runs.
Pakistan are much better equipped to deal with spin than England. This is their game and they are more capable with both bat and ball on pitches that favour spin. England have done a huge amount this summer to restore their reputation among the fans after a dismal couple of years, but there is still a long way to go until they’re the finished article.
The turning ball has always been a downfall for England, and there is still a vulnerability to their game at times. They’ve been capable of excellent work with the bat, but equally capable of collapse as they have shown in patches during the summer. Pakistan can be very similar in that they can be world-class one match and awful the next. but there is plenty more in the host’s favour in this upcoming series, and in this first test in particular.
If we’re looking for a side bet to go with the match tip, we need look no further than Yasir Shah in the top Pakistan bowler stakes. He’s a stand-out +275 with Coral which has to be worth a small investment.
Shah has had an outstanding start to his test career with 61 wickets under his belt, and he may just prove to be a thorn in England’s side. If he brings the form that saw him take 24 wickets in the series in Zimbabwe, he has all the credentials to come out on top in Abu Dhabi.
Pakistan to beat England
1st Test, Tue 13th Oct – Sat 17th Oct, 7am GMT start
Yasir Shah to be top Pakistan bowler
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