England fly out to the UAE today for their first Test series there. This day excites me every time England go on tour, but particularly so this time as it will be the first proper look at the UAE conditions. It’s the first series, even including the Ashes, where I’ve been very keen on watching a warmup match. Whilst the conditions are described as ‘subcontinental’ the UAE is not strictly on the subcontinent, but rather the Arab peninsula so I am very eager to see how the conditions actually look. (And not only for the Tests, but for Lancashire’s opener in March.) The first warmup is against an interesting XI as well, so it’s worth marking the calendars for the 7th as well as the 17th.
As far as the actual series is concerned it looks like it should be a good one. England and Pakistan were the two best teams in 2011, though England’s wins came mostly against stronger opposition. Pakistan have shown a willingness to bat slowly and reasonably, however, which I think will be an important skill as a lot of sides in the past year have collapsed playing rash shots and England have capitalised on this. Whilst I don’t see our bowlers panicking or getting desperate for wickets, if Pakistan keep their heads when the runs dry up they could still make life hard for the England bowlers. Unfortunately that could make for a very dull contest, but Pakistan have a lively seam attack as well so if the groundsmen put a bit in the wicket it will probably be to everyone’s benefit. Strauss has hinted that England will play three seamers, but I would not be surprised to see some rotation between Tests. England have a good squad of bowlers, and resting some of them might not be a bad idea.
I won’t guess at a series result this early, but despite a lot of optimism from Pakistan I think England have the edge. England’s success last year was against what had been considered to be the best team in the world and to say that it was emphatic would be an understatement. Whilst England have not yet gone to the subcontinent, the bowlers proved last winter that they can take wickets even when not getting massive amounts of swing. There have also been suggestions that Swann has been figured out after he had a quiet 2011, but I don’t think that’s the case. During last winter’s Ashes and last summer’s home series he only got two wickets that took turn and he picked up five wicket hauls in both of them. In the other matches he didn’t get much of a chance as the seamers were picking up all the wickets before he got the ball. Saeed Ajmal was the better spinner last year, but it is not a given that he will win a head to head matchup with Swann. Pakistan are at ‘home’ and have been impressive this year, but England have better batsmen, better bowlers and a better wicket-keeper and, pending the tour matches, have to be favourites.