x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Pace or spin is the question for Pakistan ahead of Dubai Test

Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman and Mohammad Hafeez have formed a three-pronged spin attack, but Pakistan may go in with only two of them in seam-friendly conditions.

Saeed Ajmal, centre, has taken 53 wickets from the past nine Test matches for Pakistan.
Saeed Ajmal, centre, has taken 53 wickets from the past nine Test matches for Pakistan.

One of the significant developments of Pakistan's last year has been their reliance on spin, in Tests and limited overs matches. It is not that spin is peripheral to their history. But it has always known its place, in the back seat to the fast bowlers doing the driving.

But the exposure spinners have enjoyed in the past year is difficult to parallel with another period. Pakistan have played two spinners and two pacemen in a Test previously, but rarely for as sustained a period as under Misbah-ul-Haq: in 12 Tests, they have picked two spinners (plus Mohammad Hafeez as a third option) in seven.

And it has worked: Abdur Rehman has 45 wickets in 10 Tests since Misbah took over and Saeed Ajmal, 53 in nine.

Now they face the world's best Test side and the main consideration ahead of the first match will be whether to stick with the two spin, two pacemen option (as they have done in the last four Tests) or play a third fast bowler.

England's difficulties against spin have long gone. But, in the Ashes and the India series, they have not faced a quality spinner in peak form. If conditions demand it, Rehman holding tight at one end and Ajmal attacking at the other is a tempting configuration.

But there might be swing and seam too in Dubai, in which scenario Wahab Riaz offers an unpredictable alternative to back up two from Umar Gul, Junaid Khan and Aizaz Cheema.

Misbah is a realist and will go with what conditions tell him, rather than make it a choice between Pakistan's traditional strength and a newly-acquired one.