After a mauling in the first Test, England will be desperate to justify their number one rank as they take on a spirited Pakistan side in the second match at the Abu Dhabi Cricket Stadium starting today.
Andrew Strauss’ men were humbled inside three days in Dubai, a result that shocked and surprised many, but was a testament to Pakistan’s upward movement after a successful 2011 saw them unbeaten in both Test and One-Day International series.
However, England will hope to bury the Dubai ghost and would want a fresh start on a batting-friendly pitch. The two Tests played here have been drawn encounters, featuring three double-hundreds and two centuries, and the last one saw Pakistan letting Sri Lanka off by dropping seven catches in the second-innings. Pakistan also drew with South Africa here in 2010.
Gul, Ajmal form big plus for Pakistan
Despite the unfavourable bowling conditions, Pakistan have the edge with fast-bowler Umar Gul finding his rhythm and off-spinner Saeed Ajmal in good form – fresh from a career-best seven for 55 during his 10-wicket haul in Dubai.
“Ajmal got 10 wickets which created so much pressure on England,” said Misbah. “I think that’s really an edge for us but at the same time I also think the nature of the pitch will make it tough to get 20 wickets. But I think you have to just come out hard and just bowl a disciplined line according to the weakness of the batsmen.”
Misbah said his team was ready for a backlash from England, who have not lost a Test series since January 2009.
“There is no doubt that England, being the world number one team, will try their 100 per cent and stage a strong comeback. We are ready for them,” added Misbah, who has not lost a series since taking over as captain in October 2010.
Pakistan could replace paceman Aizaz Cheema with left-armer Junaid Khan.
Strauss expects good batting pitch
Meanwhile, Strauss expected the pitch to offer little to the bowlers and live up to its history of being a batting paradise.
“At the moment it looks a very good pitch,” said Strauss, whose team has not lost two Tests in a row since they were beaten by South Africa in July 2008.
While cricket pundits expected England to fight back, history has it that they have only won three times after going down 1-0 in a three-match series. And Strauss realised it would be a big challenge.
“It’s a big challenge for us and one I’m personally really looking forward to. We clearly let ourselves down in Dubai, we have got to hold up our hands and say there are no excuses for that,” said Strauss who will open with Alastair Cook in their 100th innings.
England captain hopes to rediscover form
About his own batting form which saw him dismissed for 19 and six in the first Test, Strauss said he hopes to overcome the slump. The left-hander has managed just one hundred in his last 30 innings – the last ton coming in Brisbane in 2010.
“It is obviously quite disappointing but having been around the Test match scene for a while now I know that one innings can completely change both your perspective and others’ perspectives about how well you are playing.”
“I’m sure England will perform better in the second Test because they’ll have worked out Ajmal’s bowling and gotten used to the conditions. But Pakistan are in the groove – let’s see if they can maintain the momentum.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2012.
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