Strauss climbs the walls in bid to stay on top of world

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Hostilities are still fresh in the memory as England go into alien territory but patience will be needed to keep their No 1 ranking

After the sort of break that could have been billed as once in a lifetime, England return to duty next week. They do so by entering unknown territory against a familiar foe to confront one compelling question: is the magic still there?

The last time England performed in the Test arena they had become irrepressible, rightly having moved to No 1 in the world and being masters of all they surveyed. All the plaudits that have come their way were deserved and their failure so far to transfer their commanding Test form to one-day cricket is of (as yet) small consequence.

Through talent, hard work and vision, orchestrated by the increasingly illustrious combination of the coach Andy Flower and the captain Andrew Strauss, England have become a formidable team, the most outstanding from these shores for at least 40 years. A scintillating victory in Australia last winter was followed by the crushing of India, who had been the world's top-ranked team, in the summer.

It is almost three years since England lost a Test series and they have won eight of their last nine, in which time they have won 20 matches and lost only four. This has been the form of champions.

By the time they completed their 4-0 annihilation of India last August with a serene exhibition at The Oval, England needed a rest from the relentless daily grind that international cricket has become where the only sight on the horizon is the next match.

Instead many of their number had to repack their bags again and head for India for a one-day series, the reasons for which are still cloaked in mystery (it cannot have been to satisfy the desires of cricket fans since the attendances were pitiful) and were predictably hammered.

Since then, apart from the odd foray into training camps, they have been, in the phrase, spending more time with their families. That comes to an end when they set out on Tuesday for the United Arab Emirates – Dubai and Abu Dhabi to be precise – where they will play three Test matches, four one-day internationals and three Twenty20s against Pakistan. And that will be followed by a relentless 18 months culminating in two back-to-back Ashes series.

The tour which begins another hectic schedule is taking place where it is because the unstable state of Pakistan makes playing international sport there unsafe. That alone promises to make it a fascinating event – though tour in this case is almost a misnomer since all the internationals are being played in two places barely an hour apart. By the end of eight weeks the players of both teams might be crawling up their hotel room walls.

There is the additional feature, not easily either overlooked or dismissed despite what both teams might say, of the previous between them. When they last met in the summer of 2010 all hell broke loose after three Pakistan players were fingered in a spot-fixing scandal. All – the captain Salman Butt and the fast bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif – have since been jailed.

After they were exposed in a newspaper sting, the limited-over element of the tour continued amid increasing fractiousness between the sides. There was overwhelming relief when the thing was at last done and it will take enormous goodwill on the part of both sides to ensure it is all behind them when the First Test match starts on 17 January.

The pitches will be alien to England, not English in nature of course but not sub-continental either. That may offer Pakistan a slight advantage because they won a three-Test series on them against Sri Lanka in October and November.

It is the Test series, which is being played first, that will command most of the attention, though crowds are confidently expected to be minuscule. This is a huge pity and while both sides deserve better, Test cricket, indeed cricket in general, is not part of the fabric in the UAE and the significant Pakistani expatriate community has never warmed to the game.

Playing before small crowds is also unusual for England. Wherever they have appeared in the last 15 or so years – and that includes sub-continental venues – they have been assured of large travelling support even when the locals have been mostly absent. No great swathes of fans are expected this time, saving their money instead for the brief tour of Sri Lanka which follows in March.

England may have to amend the brand of cricket which has taken them to the top. For most of the past two years they have played in an aggressive and attacking fashion, invariably taking the game to their opponents. On the slow pitches of the UAE, offering scant encouragement to any bowlers and with runs accruing at barely three per over, boundless patience may be required.

Whether England change the balance which has helped them to where they are – six batsmen (all ticking), a wicketkeeper (though not just any keeper in Matt Prior) and four bowlers (the most potent combination they may ever have possessed) – is already exercising debate. Whoever bowls can expect to bowl lots and the resurrection of Monty Panesar's Test career after almost three years is entirely possible. Graeme Swann, the world's best spinner, will be the focus of attention. He will love it.

Pakistan have been surprisingly impressive lately but England can be expected to score heavily and quickly enough in at least one of the matches, giving their bowlers time to do their work, to prevail and preserve their cherished status.

Pakistan v England

England A J Strauss (capt, Middx), J M Anderson (Lancs), I R Bell (Warks), R S Bopara (Essex), T T Bresnan (Yorks), S C J Broad (Notts), A N Cook (Essex), S M Davies (wk, Surrey), S T Finn (Middx), E J G Morgan (Middx), M S Panesar (Sussex), K P Pietersen (Surrey), M J Prior (wk, Sussex), G P Swann (Notts), C T Tremlett (Surrey), I J L Trott (Warks).

Pakistan Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Mohammad Hafeez, Taufeeq Umar, Imran Farhat, Asad Shafiq, Younis Khan, Umar Akmal, Adnan Akmal (wk), Azhar Ali, Umar Gul, Aizaz Cheema, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Talha, Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman, Junaid Khan.

Itinerary

7-9 Jan: v ICC Combined Associates & Affiliate Members XI, Dubai (ICC Global Cricket Academy)

11-13 Jan: v Pakistan Board XI (TBC)

17-21 Jan: First Test, Dubai

25-29 Jan: Second Test, Abu Dhabi

3-7 Feb: Third Test, Dubai

10 Feb: v England Lions, Dubai

13 Feb: First ODI, Abu Dhabi

15 Feb: Second ODI, Abu Dhabi

18 Feb: Third ODI, Dubai

21 Feb: Fourth ODI, Dubai

23 Feb: First Twenty20, Dubai

25 Feb: Second Twenty20, Dubai

27 Feb: Third Twenty20, Abu Dhabi

Suggested Topics
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Plans to decriminalise non-payment of television licence fees would cost the BBC £500m according to estimates drawn up within the Corporation
people
News
people
Life & Style
The new low cost smartphone of Motorola, 'Motorola Moto G', is displayed in Sao Paulo, Brazil on November 13, 2013. The smartphone, with dimensions 65.9mm W x 129.9mm H x 6.0 - 11.6mm D is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 with quad-core 1,2 GHz CPU, a 4.5-inch display and Android Operating System 4.3 and a suggested price of $ 179 USD.
techData assessing smartphones has revealed tens of millions of phones are at risk of being harvested
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Pare as Megan Draper and Jon Hamm as the troubled, melancholy Don Draper
tvAnd six other questions we hope Mad Men series seven will answer
Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

Politicians urged to find radical solution
Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

Ukraine crisis

How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

A history of the First World War in 100 moments
Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?