England call for mighty Finn to set the pace
Chance for quickie to stake his Test claim as Strauss insists they will hit the ground running
A year ago today, England completed an epic victory against Australia and a nation rejoiced.
They will mark the anniversary not by a parade in either open or closed-top bus, or even by a nod of recognition in the direction of the Sydney Cricket Ground where they confirmed the rout.
Instead, they will be back to business in the desert, attempting to establish the place in history that the Ashes win last winter suggested was there for the taking. That Australia have advanced since last year, as witnessed by their thumping innings win against India yesterday, will not have gone unnoticed in these parts.
The tour of the United Arab Emirates, an improbable but necessary venue, will officially begin with a match against an ICC Associate and Affiliate XI. The opposition is a motley ragbag from five different countries, chosen as a showcase for players from the lesser cricketing nations. They are almost totally unknown but they may well be exceedingly dangerous since they will have points to prove against the best Test cricket team in the world.
They are led by William Porterfield of Ireland with the rest of the squad comprising another two Irishmen, three Scots, a Namibian, a South African who plays for Namibia, a Pakistani playing for the UAE and most fascinatingly of all three Afghanistanis – making it almost as multi-national as the England team. It will palpably not be an exhibition match.
The days have gone when England treated the warm-up matches in the early part of tours as a chance for everybody to have a game, old chap, without getting match-honed. How anybody assumed that was a sound method of preparing for the rigours of Test cricket is a mystery. England often did well enough on overseas tours in the early years of the last decade but they were regularly undercooked at the start.
"We don't want to ease our way into tours, I think we've made that mistake in the past," said Andrew Strauss, England's captain. "Hopefully we're beyond that now."
What they are not beyond is having a few walking wounded accompanying them, which is in the nature of the touring beast. Tim Bresnan, whose elbow remains swollen, was officially withdrawn from consideration for a place in today's match and his fellow bowler Chris Tremlett has a niggling eye infection which may preclude his participation. All the signs are pointing to Steve Finn, and the way in which Strauss spoke about his Middlesex and England colleague suggests that he feels there has been a sudden, substantial change. "He was bowling very well for Middlesex at the end of the season and then he was able to cause trouble to Indian batsmen in Indian conditions, which certainly gives you a huge amount of confidence as a bowler. He looked like he had put on a yard [of pace] and he's challenging those guys who were in the side at the end of the summer pretty hard now."
Strauss gives little away about team selection. England will not change easily but if Finn were to be in the XI for the First Test nobody would be knocked down by a feather.
England had middle and net practice yesterday at the grandly named, and indeed grandly upholstered, ICC Global Cricket Academy. The former, if it had a serious purpose, also provided huge amounts of fun, with the bowlers trying their socks off to dislodge the batsmen. Finn had Kevin Pietersen out early and both Strauss and Alastair Cook were made to feel they had been in a contest.
"The feeling among the camp is like the first few days back at school," said Strauss. "There's a lot of enthusiasm and that's great going into a tour like this because we know it's going to be difficult and if we want to take 20 wickets we have to do the hard yards. This isn't a series we're going to struggle for motivation anyway. We know Pakistan are a tough side, certainly in sub-continental conditions." England have yet to confirm the balance of their proposed side for the Tests but if they think it feasible they will stick with the six batsmen, four bowlers and wicketkeeper composition which has served them reasonably well. If the Australian tour of last year is used as a template – and why not? – then the team that plays today, minus perhaps Bresnan, may well be the team that takes the field for the First Test, now only 10 days away.
The taking of 20 wickets may be as difficult in this match as it will be in the Test series, especially with only three days at their disposal. As Strauss said, England may have to hold for long periods and then strike.
All six first-choice batsmen can expect to be there for the first time since late July, which means Ian Bell at five and Eoin Morgan at six. By Monday, the ICC side will know they have been in a game.
England v ICC Associate and Affiliate XI at the ICC Global Cricket Academy Ground, 10am (Dubai)
Possible England Team: A J Strauss (c), A N Cook; I J L Trott; K P Pietersen; I R Bell; E G Morgan; M J Prior (w); S C J Broad; G P Swann; J M Anderson; S T Finn.
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