England must be prepared to attack in Dubai if they are to overcome a Pakistan side that is likely to bolster its batting ranks, says Sam Stow.
Tomorrow sees England take on Pakistan in the third of a trio of desert Tests that have been anything but sweet for the Three Lions. In fact, two abject defeats have left a rather unsavoury taste in the mouth for the Andys, Flower and Strauss, and once again called into question the team’s collective approach to slow bowling.
It is clear that if England are to compete in Dubai – where they failed to make 200 in either innings last month – they must make some changes. Less so in personnel, although it is possible that Ravi Bopara will be given another chance at Test level at the expense of Eoin Morgan, than in the methods for negotiating the combined threat of Mohammad Hafeez, Abdur Rehman and the irrepressible Saeed Ajmal, who last week became the fastest Pakistani to reach 100 Test wickets.
Perhaps ‘negotiating’ is the wrong word. England’s passive approach in the second innings at Abu Dhabi (chillingly reminiscent of that terrible day in Adelaide four years ago) was rightly pinpointed as the key reason for the dramatic collapse that sealed the series, and it has become patently clear that attack will be the best form of defence for a top six that has had little success attempting to play from the crease.
Ideally we would see the likes of Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen (best not tinker with the quirky Cook and Trott, eh?) use their feet considerably more than we have seen in the first two Tests, although this may be deemed a risky tactic against the likes of Ajmal and Rehman, who use flight sparingly to say the least. However, there is no reason why England’s batsmen (particular the four lefties in the top seven) can’t sweep more against Rehman, who has fewer tricks up his sleeve than Ajmal.
More generally, getting on the front foot (rather than playing from the crease) will massively decrease the chances of another slew of lbws, and – hopefully – negate whatever spin Pakistan’s bowlers are able to extract. Most of all, however, I’d like to see more of England’s batsmen take the aerial route. Perhaps a fun thing to say in a Test match preview, but we’re yet to see how Pakistan’s bowlers react to the sort of pressure that only big-hitting and fast scoring creates.
However England perform with the bat (and here’s hoping things can’t get any worse) they will still have their work cut out to force the win that would add respectability to the final analysis of a sobering series. Not least because it looks like Pakistan will add extra batting strength to their XI. The second seamer hasn’t really been used in either game, with Junaid Khan a virtual spectator at Abu Dhabi, so, being ahead in the series, they might well see fit to bolster their batting. If they opt for this approach, Umar Akmal could come in – and he could be the perfect addition, as he will give Pakistan some extra attacking flare of their own.
England’s bowlers have been good so far (that hasn’t been the problem) but their task would grow harder if faced with a longer batting line-up. Whatever way you look at it, England are up against it to prevent a first series whitewash in four years.
That said, current match odds on Betfair suggest there is very little between the teams, seemingly based as much on England’s long-term as short-term form. With this in mind there may be value in laying the draw at 3.65. These days, few Tests end in a stalemate and in this series both sides have been susceptible to collapses.
For all the latest odds check out www.betfair.com