DUBAI // When England's cricketers left a frosty midwinter behind them to travel to the UAE this week, one UK newspaper suggested their destination has "as much cricketing tradition as the moon".
Setting aside the fact Sharjah, the country's oldest cricket venue, has staged more one-day international matches than any other in the world, this still remains an area less travelled by English players.
The No 1 Test side will give away much in the way of local knowledge to their nominal hosts when they begin a three-match series against Pakistan here this month.
However, while the UAE may be unfamiliar territory for the majority of England's cricketers, at least some of them have happy memories of the place.
Steve Finn toured these shores at the start of 2010 as an emerging fast bowler with England's second-string Lions side.
Immediately after that, he made his Test debut having been flown to Bangladesh as emergency cover for a bowling attack depleted by injury and illness.
In the intervening two years, he has hinted at potentially becoming cricket's fastest bowler, yet he still finds himself on the periphery of the side at the start of this tour.
Finn impressed as part of the one-day side in India at the end of last year, but is, by his own reckoning, at the bottom of the pecking order of a powerful battery of pace bowlers in England's Test squad.
"I went to Bangladesh as a fill-in for the tour and not even part of the proper squad, but ended up playing, so anything can happen," Finn said yesterday.
"I'd rather be involved in a team which has achieved the things we have achieved, rather than one that is achieving nothing but playing all the time.
"To represent your country is a great honour, but to represent one that is very successful is a completely different thing."
Finn has gone a long way to prove his desire to leapfrog the likes of James Anderson, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad and Chris Tremlett to earn a place in England's starting XI. While his colleagues were enjoying a break from playing at the end of last year, he travelled to New Zealand to play first-class cricket for Otago.
"I spent more time in my car over the summer than on the cricket field," said Finn, who also suggested he will target his captain, Andrew Strauss, at nets this week in a bid to prove his merits.
"The guys who have played the bulk of the Test cricket over the past 12 months or so have bowled very well every time they have played. I didn't do myself any harm in India, but looking forward to this series I have to work hard in the nets and warm-up games, and see where that gets me."
While England prepare to get back on the international treadmill in this series against Pakistan, their first opponents on tour are aiming to prove they are worthy of an appearance at the international game's top table.
England will face a composite XI of the best players from beyond the Test sphere in a match at the ICC Global Cricket Academy in Dubai Sports City, starting tomorrow.
The side is made up of aspiring professionals from the leading non-Test nations, as well as Saqib Ali, a storekeeper from Abu Dhabi, who is the UAE's leading batsman.
Boyd Rankin, an Irish fast bowler who represented England's second-string Lions side in August, says the Combined XI players want to show there is a place for them at the top of the sport.
"It is really important for us in terms of putting up a good show against the No 1 Test team in the world," said Rankin, whose burgeoning cricket career has kept him from his family cattle and sheep farm in Ireland.
"It is a gauge for us to see where we stand in terms of world cricket. If we can put up a good performance hopefully it will show ICC that there is room for a combined Associate XI to play five-day Test matches on a more regular basis."