England will play England Lions in a one-day practice match in Dubai today. It will be conducted under proper regulations with no messing about, have plenty of scope for embarrassment and be of little practical help in the series which starts against Pakistan on Monday.
Today's encounter is a day match while the four ODIs and three Twenty20s will be played under lights. There will be neither the quantity, nor perhaps the quality, of spin that will confront England in the next three weeks.
Alastair Cook will return to the captaincy of the senior team with the Test series done and Andrew Strauss having relinquished his duties until the Sri Lanka tour. He is up against James Taylor, who has just led the Lions to a 3-2 one-day series win in Sri Lanka.
The side fielded by England will be presumably, though not certainly, the one that will start against Pakistan next week. It will see a return of Craig Kieswetter to the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi where he made his breakthrough two years ago. Playing for the Lions in a warm-up Twenty20 match against England he made 81 from 66 balls and was immediately elevated to the senior team along with Michael Lumb, his opening partner who made 53. Both played a key role in the World Twenty20 triumph three months later. Had Kieswetter not been badly dropped on four by Stuart Broad at mid-off history might have turned out differently.
"It was a great feeling," said Kieswetter yesterday. "I was on the other side last time and we were fortunate enough to take the England side down. Lumby and myself have great memories and we're first-hand cases of how this game can open doors."
Doors will not be opened quite so dramatically this time whatever happens today. England have named their 16-man squad for the Pakistan series and a Lions century by an outsider will not change it. What it will do is lay down a marker for the future in front of the England coach, Andy Flower.
Kieswetter has been dropped down the order after failing to nail the job as opener in two different spells. Although he made 63 at Kolkata in England's last match on their limited-overs trip to India last October he had a generally fitful time. The hope now is that, more often than not, he will be in a position to take advantage of the late powerplays. "It's a new role and one I'm quite excited about," said Kieswetter. "The Sri Lanka side came out with one or two seamers and we faced a lot of spin. It was a nice challenge to be able to manipulate the spinners around in the middle overs and then whack them about at the end. We're trying to become a bit more streetwise in how we play the middle overs. Runs don't always have to be pretty, they can be ugly. As long as we're getting them we're happy."
Monty Panesar, who is not in the one-day squads, has stayed on in the UAE for a week and will probably play for the Lions today to give England much-needed spin practice.
Meanwhile, the Ashes bowling hero Chris Tremlett, who had to leave England's tour of the UAE early when a scan revealed a bulging disc in his back, had surgery in a London hospital yesterday.