In Dubai, England continued the latest trend of putting in all sorts of hard graft to become the top ranked team in the world, before rolling up half-arsed on an away tour and getting absolutely torn apart. In Abu Dhabi this week they must fight back and avoid becoming just another India. If any Englishman utters anything like ‘we’ll beat them when we play at home’, it’s time to start panicking. The tourists have made a habit of bouncing back from thumping defeats with crushing wins of their own, and it will be up to the unflappable Misbah to ensure his side’s feet are firmly on the ground and they are ready for the backlash.
After almost the perfect Test, Pakistan are very unlikely to make any changes. The only question mark is over the fitness of Aziz Cheema, who has been struggling with a hamstring injury he picked up last week. Word on the street is that the pitch will be even flatter this time around, something which puts a bit of added pressure on their batting. The bowlers excelled in Dubai but 338 was a slightly below par score which England managed to make look completely unattainable. They will need to put big runs on the board against the tourists’ attack now they are in a position of strength.
As for England, their camp has been coming out with all the right clichés in the past few days, but now is the time to let their actions do the talking. Chris Tremlett has again picked up a niggle in training; as he looked ineffective in Dubai, this may help out the selectors, even though they probably will have stuck with him if he were fully fit. As it is, they now have the opportunity to go with two spinners if they want, even though it’s something they almost certainly won’t do. Steve Finn must surely be the man to replace Tremlett, as he proved in Bangladesh two years ago and in India late last year that he can consistently pick up wickets on any surface. He should have played the first Test, he will play now.
It’s one of the great anomalies of Test cricket that when a team collapses in a heap the public often demands changes to the bowling – quite how Monty Panesar could have heroically saved England’s top order is anyone’s guess – but if they fail to perform again there will be calls for changes. Eoin Morgan still has a lot to prove, and with Ravi Bopara being able to roll his arm over he could come in when they return to Dubai next week. For now the same top six must fire if the tourists are to get back in the series.
A very flat pitch plus two very good batting line ups means 15 wickets on the first day, if the last few months of Test cricket are anything to go by. An attritional game which goes deep into the fifth day could be on the cards, but there will be a result. One of the teams will win or lose, perhaps it’ll be a draw. Put your money on it.