And now let's hope for something completely different – but what to do with Monty?


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The Independent Online

It would be lovely to have a quiet, straightforward Test series between England and Pakistan in the next three weeks. One in which the batsmen bat and the bowlers bowl and the fielders field and everybody goes home as pals. Do not, as it were, bet on it.

History and precedent are both against it. By the time the Third Test is done, something is likely to have happened to tilt world cricket on its axis.

There is no point speculating what this might be, but something completely different is always probable. Monty Python would have struggled to invent the litany of misdeeds which have dotted series between the two countries – from England pouring cold water on an umpire's head on MCC's first tour of the country, in 1955, to the last little shemozzle at Lord's in 2010 which led to the jailing of three Pakistani players late last year.

Whatever happens, however, the cricket is perfectly capable of standing on its own two feet, and another Monty P is occupying England's thoughts this weekend. The series of three matches, which begins at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Tuesday, is rich with promise.

England are the No 1 team in the world by right, no matter what is happening in Australia at present, while Pakistan have regrouped with a vigour and conviction that seemed beyond them after they departed England shambolically and in shame in September the year before last.

While England were ascending to the top of the world rankings, Pakistan were quietly going about their business and are unbeaten in six series. The opposition might not have been up to much but Pakistan have discovered the virtues of continuity in selection.

Their captain since that tour of England, Misbah-ul-Haq, has developed the team in his image: calm, patient, willing to eke out a winning position.

Throughout the past decade they changed their opening batsmen more often than their board chairman, which is saying something. Taufeeq Umar and Mohammad Hafeez, who first opened together in two Tests against Bangladesh back in 2003 before being separated, have now walked out as a pair for 12 Tests in a row. There is unquestionably a sense of team unity.

Indeed, they could have used the template designed by England. In the 18 Tests that England have played since the start of the 2010 summer they have used a mere 16 players, changing usually only because of injury to fast bowlers. It is easy, as Andrew Strauss, the captain, has observed, to keep an unchanged side when you are winning. But it is the conundrum that goes back to the chicken and the egg. What comes first, the winning or the unchanged side?

England have a selection conundrum on their hands this weekend. They must decide whether Monty Panesar, the left-arm spinner, should play his first Test since he kept the Australians at bay in a rearguard batting action at Cardiff in 2009.

England have only once played two spinners in the side since, in Bangladesh early in 2010 when Panesar was out of favour and James Tredwell received the selectorial nod.

That Tredwell played Test cricket shows that even this selection panel are capable of quirks, and a good thing too. But Panesar is back now and although he is a long way from challenging Graeme Swann as the first-choice spinner, he did well in the second warm-up match last week, taking eight wickets to Swann's two.

But to include Panesar, England would either have to revert to five batsmen with the wicketkeeper Matt Prior at No 6, or risk playing a bowling attack consisting of two seamers and two spinners. The hunch is that they will do neither and that Panesar will not add to his 39 caps. Not yet anyway.

England appreciate that a four-man attack will have to doa lot of bowling and that it is highly unlikely – if it works – that the three fast men at the start of the series will be the same three at the end.

Three Tests spanning 22 days on unresponsive pitches where innings may last 130 overs will take their toll. Chris Tremlett ought to be recalled as the third fast bowler. England would like to take an early lead. They would settle for an uncontroversial draw.

India on brink of defeat

David Warner fell 20 runs short of a double century as Australia dominated day two of the Third Test in Perth and put themselves in a position to wrap up the series with India.

The opener, who was unbeaten on 104 overnight after scoring the equal fourth-fastest Test hundred in history, took his score to 180 before his 159-ball innings came to an end.

Umesh Yadav's maiden five-wicket haul restricted Australia to 369 but it still gave them a first-innings lead of 208. And India had stumbled to 88 for 4 at the close with three days still to play in Perth.

The Indian openers, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag, were both undone by pace and bounce, caught behind off Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle respectively.

Starc then grabbed the biggest scalp of his three-Test career when he trapped Sachin Tendulkar lbw. Rahul Dravid and Virat Kohli held out till the close but India still trail by 120 runs.