Winner of Swann v Ajmal duel will turn the series

 

Dubai

Whatever happens in the desert in the next three weeks, it will not happen quickly. Trains of camels, weighed down by the chattels of mankind, would move more quickly than the Test series being played in the UAE.

Click HERE to view 'Spin Kings: How they have fared since 2010'

Everything points to a grim and gruelling duel between England and Pakistan in which chances and probably entertainment, if not skill and fascination, will be at a premium. Runs may well come at under three an over, which is more or less a starvation diet in these wham-bam days.

Wickets will be harder to come by still and will depend on the new ball, the reverse swinging older ball and the wiliness and trickery of the spin bowlers. In all, it is likely to take five overs longer for a bowler to take each wicket than it does, say, in England.

Both sides, especially Pakistan, are desperate to forget a contentious past. In a perverse way, three boring draws in which everybody shakes hands and smiles at the end of it might be welcome, if eminently forgettable.

 



Andrew Strauss, England's captain, said yesterday: "Given the history between the two nations it is important we recognise our responsibilities. But ultimately we're not treating it any differently to other series and I don't think we should do. You go out and play good, hard cricket and you make sure that things don't escalate into something more serious. It's about both teams recognising their responsibilities to play the game in the right way. Any idea that it won't be a competitive series is well wide of the mark. It'll be a very competitive series between two very good sides who are hungry to improve and get better. Come the first ball there'll be a lot of competitive juices flowing."

England appeared to have survived two late injury scares. Stuart Broad, who hit a ball on to his right ankle while batting in the nets, bowled without discomfort yesterday. No sooner had Broad gone through his paces than Ian Bell was hit on his left wrist while batting in nets and sent for an X-ray.

The ball which did the damage rose from a length and was delivered by, of all people, the England batting coach, Graham Gooch, using his slingshot device known as the sidearm. Nothing showed up and although it was painful Bell was confidently expected to play last night. But it was the sort of last minute knock to send shockwaves through the squad.

Bell could easily be one of the key players of the series, taking England to substantial totals late in the innings. But like everybody else he will need patience and resolve. Test cricket always requires those commodities but in these conditions you can double it.

There are bound to be intriguing contests within the contest and none will be of more significance to the outcome than that between Graeme Swann and Saeed Ajmal. Since they last played, in England in 2010 when everything was overwhelmed by the match-rigging incident in the last Test, Ajmal has had much superior figures to Swann.

His 53 wickets in his nine Tests since the end of the last series between the sides have come at a wicket every 63 balls, costing 26.23 runs apiece. Swann has 40 in 12 matches with a strike rate of 69 and an average of 35.22. But now they are playing on a level playing field.

England probably have the superior batting line-up (with a phew of relief when Bell was declared fit) but despite the need for other bowlers to do their share, the feeling is not easily discarded that whoever prevails between Swann and Ajmal will be on the winning side.

Three draws are possible. Of the five Test matches in the UAE in the last 15 months – there were four more in Sharjah early in the millennium – four have been draws in which 110 out of a possible 160 wickets have fallen.

The problem may well be the sheer time needed to take wickets and that is why England's catching must be out of the topmost drawer again, matching their display in Australia last winter. Their fielding generally should be sharper and more precise than Pakistan's and it will be vital. Both sides will do their utmost to carve out a result somewhere along the line. Test cricket has seen some splendid matches lately but it is still fighting for its life. The size of the crowds probable in the next 22 days will hardly do anything to improve its health. Cricket is a big game in the UAE if the publicity given to it is any guide.

It is true that the culture of the country precludes those who would watch it from simply taking time off work but in the city where the International Cricket Council has its headquarters the empty stadiums expected in the next few days are not the most wonderful advertisement. Still, a slew of English fans arrived yesterday, noticeable at practice by their union jack garb, so the sides will not be unaccompanied.

England are accustomed to playing before large audiences but Strauss seemed unconcerned. He said: "The atmosphere might not inspire or inhibit you, but the majority of your inspiration comes from within anyway so I don't think it will play a huge part in determining the outcome of the game."

Suggested Topics
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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea