I was in the squad the last time England played Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates. We were No1 in the Test rankings but it was an embarrassment. We couldn’t cope with spin and we were comprehensively beaten 3-0.
Going overseas and playing in subcontinental conditions is something which England have struggled with for some time, and when the first Test gets underway in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday those demons need to be conquered.
The biggest factor is undoubtedly the spin. England won’t be too worried about the seam aspect, mainly because the wickets are generally really flat over there and pretty slow so there won’t be many balls bouncing around batsmen’s heads.
It’s when the ball starts spinning that problems arise. But if our batsmen take the positive mindset which we have seen during the summer into this series, I believe England will have the tools to combat spin and master the conditions in that part of the world.
The old England used to tick over against spin bowling and accumulate one or two an over, which you have to do at times, but I would like to see England be really positive against the Pakistan spinners and take the fight to them.
There are some good players of spin in that England squad, they have just got to have the confidence of the coaching staff and the management to go out and play their natural game. If that happens I have no doubt England will do well.
I actually think it will be an easier challenge this time around compared to 2012 as Pakistan will not have off-spinner Saeed Ajmal, who was at the top of his game back then. Bar Kevin Pietersen and to an extent Matt Prior, our guys simply couldn’t pick him.
Having said that, you can never underestimate Pakistan. They go under the radar all the time and in their own conditions they really are a team to be reckoned with. They have played seven Test series in the UAE and not lost any of them.
In 2012, while Ajmal and spin partner Abdur Rehman were destroying us – they claimed 43 wickets between them – our spinners were far less threatening. Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, who played the final two Tests, took 27 during the series.
As such, the upcoming three-match series is going to be a big challenge for Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid. Moeen is still regarded as a part-time spinner and has not fully found his feet. Every time he plays Test cricket he is under the microscope.
There is a lot of expectation and focus on those two and it boils down to how they deal with it. It will be a big test and it will be extremely challenging.
Despite the scoreline in 2012, seamers James Anderson and Stuart Broad bowled pretty well on those wickets – it was probably the batsmen that let England down on that tour – and although spin will be a huge factor, the new ball will also be key.
In English conditions, if a side fails to make the most of the new ball they can get away with it because when the lacquer comes off, the ball remains hard and sometimes swings even more than it did when new.
When the shine goes off the Kookaburra balls, which will be used in the Pakistan series, the ball becomes very soft and easier for batsmen to deal with.
That’s why it is so important for Anderson and Broad to bowl straight, hit the top of off stump and make the batsmen play. There tends to be good carry out on the UAE pitches with the new ball, so they will be looking to cash in.
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