England go into the first of this three test match series against Pakistan in the UAE which begins on Tuesday as the number one test team in the world, following their great year in 2011. It is now up to them to consolidate that position but to do so, they will be up against a Pakistan side blessed with considerable talent and for the first time in a long while, a team that appears wholly united.
To achieve the number one spot in the world was a remarkable feat by Andrew Strauss and his teammates in 2011 and it came on the back of an Ashes win and series victories over India and Sri Lanka. Before that, they defeated Pakistan in the now infamous spot fixing series in 2010, which resulted in prison sentences for three Pakistani players.
Fortunately both teams, it appears that dreadful series is in the past and the start of a new, far more harmonious but still highly competitive series this time around. England will have their work out too as Pakistan have done a tremendous job of rebuilding their team which is bristling with talent. This was proven with great clarity in their series win over Sri Lanka before Christmas.
The man regarded as the main danger to England is off spinner Saeed Ajmal, whose doosra’s can play havoc with the mindset of one or two of the English batsmen. He also has a quicker ball to contend with and allegedly has discovered a completely new delivery which he has named the ‘teesra’. All this will make him very difficult to read, particularly as the pitches in the Middle East are very similar to what Pakistan plays on at home. We already know that he has had England’s most flamboyant batsman, Kevin Pietersen in trouble on a number of occasions in the past.
Also back with the Pakistan team is captain MIsbah-Ul-Haq who although now 37 years old is leading the team with great authority. If he can continue his task of motivating his side, then they will come out against England totally committed to victory. To support him are the ever reliable Younis Khan who provides backbone in the middle order, while Azhar Ali is an up and coming fine number three batsman who has just about every shot in the book.
There had been many pundits suggesting that England should go into the first test at least with two spinners, particularly as Monty Panesar has been showing such good form on the tour thus far. However, with the loss of Tim Bresnan then this would seem unlikely as Strauss cannot afford to reduce his batting line up from seven to six. Had Bresnan been fit of course, he could have been relied upon to knock out a few runs down the order along with Broad and Swann, thus possibly compensating for the loss of one of the batsman.
England are therefore likely to go into the first test with the following team: Strauss (Capt), Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Morgan, Prior, Broad, Swann, Tremlett, Anderson.
As far as the betting is concerned, The Cricket odds have England as the 6/5 favourites to win the series, with the draw at 5/2 and Pakistan at 14/5. Alistair Cook is the 7/2 favourite to be Englands top batsman and the same price can be snapped up for Younis Khan to be the top batsman for Pakistan. Swann is the 6/4 favourite to be England’s top bowler while Ajmal is 2/1 to be Pakistan’s equivalent.