England's might will soon be put to the test
‘It is more difficult to stay on top than to get there.'
England are rated as the number one ICC Test team but the current series against Team Green will determine whether they truly deserve the position. This is the first time England will be playing an away Test series after gaining the top position when they humiliated India at home.
By the look of things, the series is shaping up to be an exciting one for the fans of both teams. In 2011, Pakistan and England put in some dominating performances and both won six Tests each.
England’s performances came against strong teams, but five of the victories were on the home front where the conditions suited their style of play, especially the bowlers. They humbled India at home in both the Test matches and the ODIs but once they traveled to India for an ODI series, they lost, suggesting that in alien conditions, the going gets tough for England.
Pakistan, on the other hand, played relatively weaker teams (apart from Sri Lanka) and notched up six victories, but they didn't have the comfort of home conditions in any of these series. Even the home series were played in UAE, Pakistan’s home away from home which is why the victories carry a special significance. Pakistan also didn't lose any bilateral ODI series during the year.
Both teams have a strong batting line-up, though England has a slight edge in the department. They have two aggressive players, Kevin Pieterson and Eoin Morgan in their top six, who can up the tempo of the match. Pakistan’s line-up, apart from Hafeez, is made up of grafters who like to accumulate rather than hit it out of the park. England’s number seven, Matt Prior, is a much better keeper-batsman than Adnan Akmal giving them a distinct advantage, and like Pieterson and Morgan, he can be aggressive when required.
Fast bowling has always been Pakistan’s stronger suit but England’s bowling line-up seems to be just as good, though it remains to be seen how they will perform under unhelpful conditions. In England, Anderson and company have decimated batting attacks under overcast skies and conditions where the red cherry swings sideways, but outside of these conditions (in the subcontinent) their record is not that great. Swann though remains a threat.
It seems that conditions rarely matter where fast bowling is concerned for Pakistan. Gul, Cheema, Junaid and Wahab make up a fierce combination that will challenge the England batsmen, supported by the spin duo of Saeed Ajmal and Abdul Rehman and part-time spinner Hafeez.
Saeed Ajmal’s new variation, the teesra, will be offered for the first time in this series that would keep fans on the edge of their seats. Ajmal was the highest wicket-taker in 2011 in tests and is currently the top-rated ODI bowler. Many of his wickets came with the doosra that bamboozled the batsmen and if teesra is anything like it, Ajmal should be able to run through lineups at a startling speed.
England and Pakistan have a checkered history. There have been many scarring incidences including Mike Gattings, Shakoor Rana scandal in 1987, the forfeited test match in 2006 and the spot fixing scandal in 2010 to name a few. The spot fixing scandal is still fresh in the minds of fans which should give the series an extra dimension as many believe beating England here would be the perfect revenge for it.
"Players should assume themselves to be in a state of war in every match to maintain consistency in their performances. I think this is the best opportunity for the Pakistan team to avenge the disgrace of the spot-fixing scandal," is what Ramiz Raja had to say.
On the other hand, Misbah ul Haq wants to forget all about the scandal and make a fresh start.
“I think both teams know we just have to forget the past," he said. "Our area of concern is to play good cricket, fair cricket - and that's what we can do.”
In the end, I think
This series provides Pakistan a great opportunity to beat the old colonial masters at their own game and if they do, it would cap a remarkable comeback by the team since they played England last time round in perfect style. Let’s hope that at the end of the day, the green Flag is flying high!