Pakistan Dream To Be Contenders Again

Expect a controversy free series with Misbah in charge

Team Misbah’s sternest test is almost upon them as England, the world’s premier test side, begins it’s campaign to justify the coveted tag. The Poms are an extremely balanced outfit, and despite the inept performances in the ODI series following the summer romp, Andrew Strauss’s men in whites are the genuine force to be reckoned with in the Cricket World.

The Pakistani captain has already gone on record to indicate that he is pleased with the brand of Cricket being exhibited by his team off-late. Not perturbed by the ultra-defensive show put out by the batsmen against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Misbah seems fine with a safety first approach. What does this thinking exactly mean for the Green shirts?

Are we about to experience another dead encounter like the S.A tour from last year?

Or do the two M’s have a trick  or two up their sleeve to outfox Strauss and Flower, the wisest coach/captain combo going around. Here’s a look at what we can expect from these two not so friendly of foes.

The Table:

The  fans must be pleased that two of the test matches are being held at Dubai. The most feisty of the Emirates tracks, Dubai offers much more chance at a result than the pan-cake wickets on offer at Abu Dhabi (Second Test) or Sharjah. Under the tutelage of the GCA groundsman Tony Hemming and a courtesy Pakistani whisper in his ear from seasoned head curator Agha Zahid, the Dubai tracks should offer bounce for the spinner and seamer. Unlike the S.A series where the UAE groundsmen admitted “they had over prepared the surfaces“, the Sri Lanka series offered quality Cricket with a much more even contest between bat and ball.

Expect the Dubai Pitch to be more prone to results

More so than even perhaps surfaces back home, the wickets in the Emirates play favorably into the hands of the hosts and their newly adapted style of going along at the speed of milk floats.The pitches here in the UAE (comprised of Pakistani soil) don’t offer the fluent stroke play on offer in the Sub-Continent. The bounce not as true, and the pace not as dependable, the batsmen can’t afford to be expansive in their stroke play.

Whether pre-intended or not Pakistan’s batting strategy is extremely suited to these surfaces. And the odds tilt slightly more in their favor when they come up against sides like England who have notably base their winning game plan at consistently scoring near four an over.

The Green Apple :

Pakistan need to consider these facts and make the Poms dance to their tunes. The fact that Misbah has spoken out so strongly in defense of his tactics means the leadership is clear on it’s goal and the path to achieve it. The dead bat strokes and slow run rates might not make for the most enticing show on t.v, but provide the hosts the oppurtunity to wither away the English in unfriendly conditions, and then pounce when the time is right.

How the top-order holds up is key to Pakistan’s hopes. It’s all well and good to plunder runs against ailing oppositions but let there be no doubt that the real test for the batsmen lies here against England. In conditions suited for batting, where their mental game more than their techniques will be under the scanner, the likes of Taufeeq Umar who claim to have “reinvented” their batting will be tested by the formidable English pacers. The least expected of him and the others is to perform in friendly conditions against good attacks. They might never be equipped enough to handle the harsh conditions else where but failure here against England will mean all the good work put in the last year has mounted to nothing.

How far has the Pakistani top order actually come?

Spin of course will be Pakistan’s major weapon. Saeed Ajmal proved his metal in England in 2010 and will act as the spearhead this time round. What really matters of course is what combination Pakistan decide to play around their star bowler. Going in with Rehman from the get-go must be considered a viable option given the older hands knack of picking up the crucial wicket.

It was also only after Pakistan decided to play the extra spinner in the series against Sri Lanka that the hosts were able to taste victory. This means of course that one of the fast bowlers will need to sit out. With Cheema off-late being Pakistan’s best seamer, and Junaid’s left hand angle and expertise with the old ball desperately needed against a team packed with left handers, Gul who is yet to set the Test World on fire should be the logical omission.

The hosts also benefit a lot when the three spinners play together, but expecting Pakistan to make the bold move of resting the veteran without tasting defeat first is asking to much of the Pakistani camp.

The English Muffin:

Andrew Strauss’s side will look to dominate from the start. If the visitor’s are able to make solid in roads early on, and get on top of the Pakistanis in the first Test, the hosts will be hard-fought to make their way back given the conservatie psyche of team Misbah.

Strauss will hope the tourist keep their excellent batting form going and his opening partner Cook (a.k.a Bradman) keeps piling on the runs. They will have to watch out for Hafeez though who likes taking the newer ball against left handers.

Pietersen (elated at not having to face Asif) and Bell however, being the best players of spin in the team will hold they key for the tourist in the batting department.

In bowling it will be Broad that the Pakistanis must fear. Coming of the defining season of his career, the Nottinghamshire man will test every batsman with the extra bounce and nip he gets. Asad Shafiq who struggled against the shorter stuff against the likes of Bangladesh will have his work cut out.

Swan although a threat will be made much more potent if the Poms decide to go in with Monty as well. Pakistan traditionally horrible against left arm spin have suffered at the hands of Panesar before, and given their recent failings against Shakib-ul-Hassan in Bangladesh those ghosts are far from being put to rest.

Broad and Swann will both worry the hosts, but will Monty get the chance to expose Pakistan's frailties against Left-arm spin

The English tail and how it copes will also prove crucial. If the lower order batsmen like Prior, Swann and Broad can handle the guile of Ajmal & Co they are capable of taking the game away from the hosts in quick time. Since Pakistan lack the destructive pace to rip through tail enders,  the extra runs the English are able to add coming lower down may indeed turn out to be the defining factor in the end.The last thing Pakistani fans need to see is the dreaded, but now familiar sight of Strauss signaling yet another declaration from the dressing room.

Of course controversy is never far away from a Pakistan, England encounter and Pakistan should prepare themselves for a barrage of accusations and reminders from the English media contingent. Don’t be surprised if Saeed Ajmal’s bowling action is yet again brought to the fore as he, and not the fast bowlers (like Asif and Amir last time), is Pakistan’s main bowling strike force.

The Sweetener:

The two teams meet on the back of being the most successful sides in 2011. Both will look to keep that record unblemished, but where Pakistan will target safety first, England will not be happy with any thing less than a convincing margin of victory at the end of the three tests. And there in lies Misbah’s opportunity. If Pakistan are able to catch the English by surprise early, weather the English storm and then take the series deep into the third test there is every likelihood they can snatch an upset series victory, to gain revenge for the most dreadful of away tours in 2010.

Dubai 1st Test : Pakistan win to lead series 1-0

Abu Dhabi 2nd Test: Draw

Dubai 3rd Test: Pakistan hang on for a draw

Originally for Pakpassion

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