England face an endurance test to remain at No 1



England begin their first Test series as the best team in the world tomorrow. By the time the third match against Pakistan finishes early next month they will have a clearer idea of where they truly stand.

The tightly-knit squad designed and moulded under the guidance of the coach, Andy Flower, and the captain, Andrew Strauss, has reached its ranking as of right, capped by thumping wins against Australia and India. But this fascinating series, delicately balanced in so many ways for so many reasons, is the start of a fresh challenge.

This year, England will play subcontinental opposition away three times. This series will be followed almost immediately by two Tests in Sri Lanka and towards the end of the year they will play four in India. These matches will present a peculiar kind of examination of England's skills and they know it.

Although the imminent encounter is not in the subcontinent, it is a home series for Pakistan and is being played on pitches built from Pakistani soil on land that until four years ago was in the desert. England know it will not be like Headingley on a grey Thursday.

As Jimmy Anderson, the leader of a bowling attack whose membership is likely to continue to be restricted to a fab four, said: "We realise that it's going to take longer than it would do in England. We might be in the field for 100 overs plus on more than one occasion. We're ready for that.

"We've all said it before, we don't just want to be No 1 for a couple of weeks, we want to stay there for a long time and become one of the greatest England teams there ever has been." These are not merely empty words. Their grandstanding victories of the past 18 months have fuelled England's conviction. They sense that they can achieve things this year that will endure through the ages.

It is difficult to be certain of the composition of the team for tomorrow's match since England generally hand over their XI at the toss only because it is in the regulations.

They are receiving advice from all quarters that they should play two spinners, thus resurrecting Monty Panesar's career. But England have reached the summit with four bowlers and will be minded to give four bowlers a chance to beat Pakistan. Playing only five batsmen would extend their tail uncomfortably.

Given that, they may fleetingly discuss whether that quartet should comprise two fast bowlers and two spinners and then conclude that it should not. Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Tremlett are likely to be entrusted to bowl at the other end from Graeme Swann for most of the first Test at least. If it does not work they may need to amend it, but even if outrageously successful it is difficult to see the same three seamers playing in all three matches over 22 days.

Broad was hobbling round the periphery of England's fielding drills yesterday after driving a ball into his right ankle while batting in the nets. Although it was both bruised and bandaged none of the connections seemed particularly perturbed.

Swann's role is as crucial here as has been that of the seaming trio lately. In the second innings particularly, he can expect to bowl more overs than the others and take more wickets. He sounds up for the part – when does he not? – but it will be a gruelling three weeks.

He will be delighted that the Decision Review System is being used in all its glory because that has undoubtedly helped him in gaining 34 lbw verdicts while taking 153 Test wickets so far. Jim Laker, an off-spinner from another, long ago generation had only 24 lbws in his 193 Test wickets.

Swann will be less elated at the lack of left-handers in the Pakistani middle order. It is unusual these days, and only Taufeeq Umar, their opener, is left-handed among their probable batting line-up.

Of Swann's total, 80 have been left-handers, whereas Laker dismissed only 31 left-handers. It was a different world, there were fewer of them, but it might just affect Swann. For England to prevail he probably has to outbowl Saeed Ajmal, the opponents' off-spinner and the leading Test wicket-taker in the world last year, but of that he is perfectly capable, with or without a doosra or a teesra in his armoury.

England's batting has failed to fire on all cylinders so far, indeed it has spluttered along on about one and a half. They will need to think of totals in the 450 to 500 region to give Swann and the rest something to bowl at. Kevin Pietersen dismissed the poor form he, for one, has displayed so far.

"It isn't a concern at all," he said. "I think I've scored one hundred out of all the warm-up games I've played for England in seven or eight years so for me it is not a problem. My first 10 balls and how I start is important and I did that a couple of times in two knocks and that is all I'm really interested in."

Pietersen's memory failed him. He has actually scored two warm-up hundreds, one in Australia, one in the West Indies. But the general point holds good. His warm-up average abroad is 29, his Test average is 45.

England should score enough runs and win this series but by the end they know they will have been in a contest.

Sparse crowds expected – even at £3.55 a seat

The Dubai International Cricket Stadium is modern and functional. It is neither an architectural delight nor an eyesore and will be the scene of two of the three Test matches in the series between England and Pakistan.

It may not, however, be seen at its best since it is never likely to be more than a third full for any of the days. This is partly because there is no tradition of Test cricket in the United Arab Emirates, though that does not mean there is no passion for the game. The large Pakistani expatriate population is keen, but even if Test matches were their bag – which they probably are not – the vast majority work for six days a week here with only Fridays off, part of which is spent in prayer.

The hope is that there will be a considerable walk up on the fourth day and that the English expats here will be grateful for the diversion. Dubai City Sports City, of which the stadium is part, is doing its best to lure spectators. Tickets are 20 dirhams (£3.55) – but for England playing in front of empty stands will be a strange experience.

First Test details

Possible teams:

England A J Strauss (capt), A N Cook, I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, E J G Morgan, M J Prior (wk), S C J Broad, G P Swann, C T Tremlett, J M Anderson

Pakistan Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Mohammad Hafeeez, Taufeeq Umar, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Adnan Akmal (wk), Umar Gul, Abdur Rehman, Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan.

Pitch report Likely to offer some swing early, but will be slow and low, needing graft, patience by all parties. The spin bowlers cans expect a heavy workload and good returns.

Umpires B Bowden (NZ) & B Oxenford (Aus)

TV Sky Sports 1, from 5.30am tomorrow

Arts and Entertainment
Supporting role: at the Supreme Court, Rhodes was accompanied by a famous friend, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch
booksPianist James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to stop the injunction of his memoirs
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
filmDheepan, film review
Steven Gerrard scores for Liverpool
peopleComedian star of Ed Sullivan Show was mother to Ben Stiller
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?