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

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
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

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn