ABU DHABI // England will take on an associate nations XI and a Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) representative XI as part of an extensive warm-up ahead of the first Test against Pakistan in Dubai on January 17.
England arrive in the UAE early, two weeks ahead of the first Test on January 3 and will take on the two sides in three-day games in Dubai ahead of what is shaping up to be among the most anticipated series in the new year.
England's rise to the top of the Test rankings has been built in considerable part on precisely this kind of meticulous preparation ahead of Test engagements.
Two warm-up games are evidence of that, helping them acclimatise to conditions that are likely to be testing and unfamiliar.
"The first game, from January 7 to 9, will be against a team of players drawn from the top associate nations," an official familiar with itinerary told The National.
"The players can be taken from Ireland, Scotland, Netherlands, Kenya, Canada or Afghanistan. Availability of the players is being confirmed before the squad is announced." There is also likely to be at least one, if not two players from the UAE.
The second three-day game, against a PCB XI, is scheduled from January 11 to 13, also in Dubai. It is expected Pakistan will call in seven leading players (outside of those selected for the series) and mix them up with some players expected to be involved in the Tests for a combined XI.
The tour is England's first comprehensive challenge since they became the No 1 Test side in the world, after the 4-0 series triumph over India in the summer.
Pakistan are on their own upswing. Contests between the two sides have rarely lacked for excitement, drama or controversy in the modern age; the last series, in 2010, was a particularly spicy affair, providing the backdrop as the spot-fixing scandal blew up.
There is plenty of cricket through the near-two-month tour apart from the three Tests, four one-day internationals (ODI) and three Twenty 20s. Though Sharjah has not got an international game, the newly-renovated stadium - which hosted a Test and an ODI between Pakistan and Sri Lanka recently - will host a 50-overs game between Pakistan and Afghanistan on February 10.
England will also take on the England Lions in Abu Dhabi in a 50-overs game on the same day as both sides prepare for the limited-overs leg of the tour, which begins from February 13.
Talks are also taking place about a 50-over game between the PCB XI and the UAE national side.