England are ready to face ‘trial by spin’ against Pakistan in the UAE
DUBAI // After the frying pan of a home Ashes series, England’s cricketers jumped straight into the fire of an unseasonably hot autumn day at their first training session at Dubai on Friday morning, ahead of their series against Pakistan.
And acclimatisation is the easy bit. Yasir Shah is not even here yet.
“I started with a cold when I left England. I think that is pretty much gone already,” captain Alastair Cook said after their 40°C training session at the ICC Academy.
Those England players who have played Test cricket here before know the climate will be the least of the challenges facing them in their three-Test series in October and November.
When they toured in 2012, as the world’s top-ranked Test side, they were savaged by Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal-led spin battery, losing each of the three Test matches comprehensively.
Ajmal, who took 24 wickets in that series, is conspicuous by his absence this time around.
Still, Pakistan have been able to progress seamlessly despite the travails of their champion off-spinner, thanks to Yasir’s emergence.
Since his Test debut against Australia at Dubai last October, leg-spinner Yasir has become a pillar of the Pakistan bowling line-up.
“He has obviously had an outstanding start to his Test career – 61 wickets in 10 games is a great effort,” Cook said of Yasir.
“Saeed was a great bowler, as well. To leave a guy like him out, the other guys have done pretty well. I don’t think it weakens or strengthens them in any way.
“It is always a challenge when you play Pakistan, India or Sri Lanka. The trial by spin is usually a tough one.”
Only Cook, Ian Bell, Stuart Broad and James Anderson remain from the side that was whitewashed here in 2012.
Cook and Trevor Bayliss, England’s coach, acknowledged the tour party this time are light on any sort of overseas experience.
They do have some enviable imported knowledge to lean on.
Mahela Jayawardene cut a dash in his new team-issue England training kit at the ICC Academy, having joined the coaching staff as a batting mentor for this tour.
The former Sri Lanka captain has reprised his relationship with Bayliss and Paul Farbrace, the England assistant coach, with whom he enjoyed great success in his homeland.
“It is a huge boost to have a man of his skill as a batter, with the way he played spin, in particular,” Cook said. “Mahela has fitted in well and it is up to our batsmen to pick his mind a little bit.”
England contravened the form guide when they beat Australia to win the Ashes last summer. Recent history suggests a tour of the UAE will be an even tougher assignment, though.
Pakistan have never lost a full Test series on these shores, and Bayliss said England will be treating the series with the same attitude they had for the Ashes.
“Each series you get to is a big challenge,” Bayliss said. “The history between Australia and England means it is probably top of the tree for both countries, but that has gone now.
“One is never bigger than the other, from a player’s point of view. You just want to do well in the next one.
“We are approaching this series as we did the series against Australia.”
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Updated: October 2, 2015 04:00 AM