Pakistan v England preview

The warmup matches are over and now it’s only four days until the first Test between England and Pakistan in Dubai. England have started the tour positively by winning both of the warmup matches, but there have been still been some clear weaknesses, especially in the middle order batting. It may be because they are having trouble adapting to the pitch, or it could just be rust because England have not played cricket for a while. We’ll know more as the series goes on.

The biggest positive from the two warmups for England must be the bowling. Even though Bresnan hasn’t been able to overcome his elbow injury, Finn, Tremlett, Onions and even Monty have put in good performances to stake their claims to replace him. Monty actually had the best figures from that quartet, taking 8-103 in the second warmup. I doubt England will play two spinners, especially in a four man attack, but Monty has made a strong case for inclusion, probably at the expense of Morgan. Tremlett and Onions are almost neck and neck after taking 4-62 and 4-90 in the second warmup, both of which are better than Finn’s match analysis in the first warmup. Finn is probably still the front-runner, it would have taken an exceptional performance by his competitors to overcome that, but Strauss and Flower can be comfortable in the knowledge that there are replacements available if he struggles. Given the gruelling conditions likely to confront England, I would be very surprised if they did not intentionally rotate some of the bowlers anyway.

The batting for England is more of a concern. Strauss, Cook and Trott have all made runs at some point during the first two warmups, but KP, Bell and Morgan averaged 12.9 between them with a top score of 39. This is troubling, but I don’t think it is a disaster. Ian Bell is a very talented player and has had considerable success in the past against Pakistan. He averages 68.8 against them, albeit ‘only’ 52.16 outside of England. Given his skill and history it is very likely that he will come good. KP and Morgan are more uncertain. KP can be a mercurial player, but he was in form last summer. Given that the pitches will favour batsmen one might think that he will find the going to be relatively easy, but he has struggled in his career in the subcontinent. In his career in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka he averages just 34.6, though he averaged over 80 in two matches in Bangladesh. Eoin Morgan is untried at the highest level, and has never played in a Test outside England, but his technique is said to be good against spin. He has a very inventive style of strokeplay, but he has not yet scored the runs to establish himself as a long term Test candidate. How he fares in this series could tell us quite a bit about if he is a Test batsman or not. Even if KP and Morgan do struggle it is unlikely to be fatal for England. Four firing batsmen can usually carry two out of form ones and when adds Prior and Broad to the mix England’s batting still looks excellent.

For Pakistan, this is their first series against top opposition since they played South Africa in November of 2010. They have won six of their subsequent ten Tests, but drew both matches in that series. Both their bowlers and batsmen performed exceptionally in 2011; their top six averaged just under fifty with the bat and their bowlers averaged under 27 with the ball. Four of their batsmen averaged over 45 last year, and two of those averaged well over fifty, whilst all of their regular bowlers averaged under 30. The caveat to this is that the best team they played was Sri Lanka, and they still almost lost one of those matches. Furthermore, they have recalled Wahab Riaz for this series despite his averaging over 40 last year.

Pakistan have played fairly defensive minded cricket in their last few Tests. It probably cost them a win against Sri Lanka, but may serve them well against England. Whilst England have bowled brilliantly recently, one of their big advantages has been their ability to induce poor shots by choking off scoring. With Pakistan playing cautiously anyway they may not be as susceptible to that tactic, which could in turn make life very difficult for England’s bowlers. At the same time, with Cook and Trott digging in for England it could make it very hard for Pakistan to win. (As well as making the play slow to a crawl, which no one wants.)

Whilst Pakistan are playing well and know the conditions well, I think England are simply a better side. Even if Morgan and KP do not fire we still have six players solid batsmen in the side and a very talented, well drilled and utterly relentless bowling attack. In many ways it doesn’t really matter who replaces Bresnan, England are still going to have an exceptional attack with no real weak point. Going back to the last Ashes they have had 12 Tests in which they have choked the life out of some of the most famous and accomplished batsmen, with only Dravid and Hussey managing to defy them. I think England may still need a Test to get properly acclimatised, but will come back well after that. From what we’ve seen in the warmups I think they can bowl Pakistan out twice and will win the series 2-0.

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