What Strauss and his troops need to do to beat Pakistan
The game plan
This is going to be a very different series. None of that full on, high tempo, score a hundred in two sessions type of cricket that we saw in Australia last winter. This will be all about patience, especially against a Pakistan side who, under Misbah-ul Haq, have become more conservative than in the past. England won’t blow them away or score at five an over. Once a batsman gets in he has to go big. In the old days an England score of 120 for one could become 180 all out when Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Mushtaq Ahmed got going and we would collapse. Runs down the order, such an important premise in this England team, will be crucial. There will be times, meanwhile, when England’s bowlers need to sit-in and wait for the ball to reverse swing. There will also be times when England have to go, well, English and use one bowler, like Stuart Broad or Christ Tremlett, to stick it up them for a spell.
Rebuilding: Misbah-ul-Haq has impressed as Pakistan captain
The right balance
There is a strong case for Monty Panesar playing in the first Test on Tuesday as the second spinner, particularly as I feel that Pakistan’s batsmen do not play spin quite as well as India’s, but the big question is how do you get him in the side England will not want to leave out Eoin Morgan and go with five bowlers as they are such big fans of having six batsmen and Morgan is such a good player of spin. The absence of Tim Bresnan, too, complicates matters because he could have feasibly batted at seven in a five-man attack. And it would be a huge risk to play two spinners in a four-man bowling line-up, particularly as none of the England batsmen, really, bowl. It could well be that Monty will have to wait while the series unfolds.
Knocking on the door: Monty Panesar (left)
The third innings
It is the one that can often decide a game in sub-continental conditions. You can get Tests that appear to be drifting towards a draw, 400 playing 400, and the team batting in the third innings doesn’t know whether to stick or twist. Like Pakistan did in Karachi when my team played them in 2000. They went into their shell and the game changed very quickly, as it could here. People will think the game is dull and boring and then all of a sudden Pakistan will get a wicket, spring into life and close in. You can find yourself up against it very quickly.
The Ajmal factor
Saeed Ajmal is a very fine bowler and there was evidence that not all the England batsmen could pick him in 2010. Now they have to forget about any thoughts they may have that his doosra might not be a legitimate delivery because it has been cleared and England just have to learn to play it. They say Ajmal is not quite as good against left-handers, so Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss and Eoin Morgan could have the biggest roles to play against him. I would not get too concerned, though, about his supposed new delivery, the teesra. He already spins the ball both ways so what else can he do with it Sounds like a bit of Shane Warne-type kidology to me.
Fine bowler: Saeed Ajmal (left)
I know England are not playing in Pakistan and there are a lot of things to do off the pitch in Dubai but the same rules apply to this England team as they did to us when we were in Pakistan. There must be no siege mentality if the going gets tough and the cricket is attritional and they must stick together at night. I like the sound of some of the tweets coming out of the game talking about their various X-Box battles. The spirit sounds good and they seem as one. They have to keep an eye on the bowlers when the going gets tough too, to put an arm round them, which I’m sure they will.
I know Pakistan have some good batsmen, like Mohammad Hafeez, Younis Khan and Misbah, but they do seem as though they might be vulnerable to the odd collapse and that would interest me as a captain. If they can consistently bowl India out for fewer than 300 I’m sure England can have success here as a bowling unit. I take them to win the series narrowly.