When a team gets on top of an opponent like England did against Pakistan on the final day of last week’s first Test in Abu Dhabi and comes that close to victory, it will only result in a surge of confidence and belief.
If it wasn’t for fading light, England would have forced a win completely out of nowhere, and Alastair Cook and his bowlers exposed weaknesses in Pakistan’s batting which should give them great hope for the second Test, which starts today.
This series has also seen the issue of the empty stadia in the United Arab Emirates resurface. It was reported that only around 50 people were there at the start of the first Test -- it’s not great for cricket that only a handful of spectators are watching games.
It makes it difficult for the players too. I was a member of the England squad which toured the UAE in 2012 and there is simply no atmosphere. It’s certainly chalk and cheese compared to a packed crowd at the MCG or an Ashes series in general.
Top players like the buzz and the adrenalin rush generated by the pressure of that sort of intense scenario. Conversely, when you hit a boundary or take a wicket and nobody celebrates it can be pretty soul-destroying.
While an England win in the UAE will still be mightily impressive given the alien conditions, the heat and the fact that Pakistan have not lost in seven series there, it is devalued slightly compared to a match-up against a subcontinental side in their own country.
The pitches are very similar so it’s still a phenomenal challenge but in Pakistan and India, for instance, there is also the deafening noise and intimidating crowd to contend with. If you’re chasing 150-200 to win on a ‘bunsen burner’, a turning wicket, with screaming Pakistan or India fans then that added pressure can get to you. In the UAE you simply don’t get that.
Having said that, success in the UAE would still be a massive result and heighten England’s continued progression ahead of their winter tour of South Africa, a team ranked No1 in the Test rankings.
That is going to be a seriously difficult assignment and a lot of people will judge this England side on how they fare against the best team in the world.
England were in a bad place not so long ago and piecing together series wins, or just going unbeaten in Test matches, can only improve confidence, which will inturn assist young players in becoming better performers while also generating a stronger team unit.
The final word must go to leg-spinner Adil Rashid who recovered from posting the worst figures in Test history of any bowler on debut in the first innings in Abu Dhabi to almost proving England’s matchwinner with 5-64 in the second.
MAKE OR BREAK
It is very difficult for a spinner in the first innings when it’s not massively conducive to spin and when it’s your debut you will be targeted.
That’s exactly what Australia did to Lancashire’s Simon Kerrigan during the fifth Ashes Test at the Kia Oval in August 2013 and he hasn’t been seen on the international stage since, despite him being a very good bowler on his day.
Leg-break bowler Chris Schofield, who I played with briefly at Surrey, also had a difficult time on his Test debut and eventually turned himself into a batsman that bowled a little bit.
Those moments on debut can define you, they can be make or break. That’s why it was huge for Rashid to turn it around -- it’s a great asset for England to have a leg-spinner in their ranks.
After the first innings people would have been writing him off but he proved to himself and others that he can cut it at Test level.