x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Five things England have learnt from their warm-up matches

As Andrew Strauss's team prepare to face Pakistan for the first of three Tests, Paul Radley lists factors that could determine the outcome of the series.

Monty Panesar, centre, celebrates with teammates after dismissing Fawad Alam, left, the Pakistan Cricket Board XI cricketer, in Dubai this week. Panesar took a match-total eight wickets.
Monty Panesar, centre, celebrates with teammates after dismissing Fawad Alam, left, the Pakistan Cricket Board XI cricketer, in Dubai this week. Panesar took a match-total eight wickets.

The UAE is not Pakistan

Ian Botham once suggested Pakistan was the sort of country "to send your mother-in-law to". Meaning he would not recommend it. Given the ongoing security issues in the country, a swath of international cricketers might never get the chance to assess whether he was right or not.

Only three players in this England side, for example, have played a Test in Pakistan.

The UAE has become Pakistan cricket's second home by necessity, and it is not a bad substitute. Touring life is rarely this easy.

The whole of this series – three Tests, four one-day internationals and three 20-over games – is being played within an approximate span of 120km. It makes the logistics of travel simple, if not quite so diverse. Botham can look forward to dining in Pierchic and teeing off on the Majlis when he is here to commentate for Sky Sports.

The England team, meanwhile, seem happy enough to be here, too. "We're based in the same hotel for the next three weeks, and I think that's fantastic," Andrew Strauss, the captain, said.

Two spinners good, one spinner bad

"I'm not the selector, so I don't have that headache," Monty Panesar said, after his five-wicket haul in the first innings against the PCB XI forced England into a rethink on their model for success.

This series may be being staged in the UAE, but the soil is Pakistani, and the pitches have similar characteristics to those there. Batsman friendly, therefore, but with the prospect of turn later in the match.

The two warm-up matches England have had were played on the same wicket. Panesar coaxed substantial turn from the wicket on the first day of the second game.

If the maths follows the same for the Test match, which will be played just across Sports City at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, it will turn from day four onwards. As such, England might be compelled to lose a batsmen and play Panesar.

Two years off makes the heart grow stronger

Panesar has not played a Test for England in two years, and he is not the only one craving a return.

Taking 28 wickets in his first eight Tests, plus some batting heroics, should have earned Graham Onions a fair run in the England team. A back injury meant he was soon battling to save his career, let alone his Test place. His recuperation has been long, and he is grateful to be within touching distance of where he left off.

"They weren't No 1 when I was playing," Onions said when his recall to the squad for this tour was officially rubber-stamped. "I want to be part of that side.

"It is special when you play for England. It is the best feeling I have ever had when I have played. To have taken that away was very, very disappointing."

Old-school Test cricket

Some imaginative declarations may have brought England two victories in their two short warm-up games, but victories will be harder earned when the serious business starts.

Having the TVs at the Global Cricket Academy tuned to the Australia versus India series yesterday was probably a little misleading.

The type of Test cricket David Warner and his Australia teammates were playing in Perth is a world away from the fare that is likely to be seen here over the next few weeks. It will be a battle of attrition.

"We are not going to be able to burst through Pakistan [with the old ball] because the wickets just won't be suited to that," Stuart Broad said during the first tour match.

"It is going to be attritional cricket, going at two-and-half per over, and fielding for long periods of time. Like old-school Test cricket, I suppose."

Phoney war is better than war war

So Saeed Ajmal is going to unleash his new delivery, the "teesra", on England? Given the potted history between these two sides, if that is going to be the worst of it, then carry on, Saeed.

Relations have been strained between these sides since that fateful Lord's Test of 2010, but each have been at pains to suggest they have moved on.

They have been on their best behaviour in the UAE, even when they were playing on neighbouring fields for the past two days.

Mind games have been tentative, at best.

Graham Gooch, England's batting coach, said he will believe in Ajmal's secret delivery when he sees it.

When Monty Panesar starts feeling comfortable enough to tell jokes, you know the prevailing atmosphere must be on the cushy side of friendly.

"I've got a secret delivery, yeah, you'll have to wait and see," Panesar said, before pondering the merits of wearing a different colour patka.


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