While the series has already been decided in favour of the ‘home’ side, Friday’s third Test from Dubai remains an important one for both sides. For Pakistan it’s all about consistency and maintaining their excellent performances to date; for England it’s a last chance to salvage something from a tour that has seen a number of dismal batting efforts undermine their good work with the ball. Not that these things matter of course – the important thing to remember is that away performances are irrelevant as long as you win at home on pitches tailor-made to your main strength. Winning away is so passé these days.
Despite the eventual result, Pakistan were playing catchup for the majority of the previous Test until England collapsed in a heap like Kristen Bell anticipating the arrival of a sloth. While their batting has done a decent job with a number of starts, nobody has pushed on to make a truly significant score and that will need to be put right here, given that England surely can’t bat as badly again. There won’t be a change in the approach – it’ll still be a question of occupying the crease for long periods – but they will look to push on and turn fifites into at least one hundred.
There may well be a change in the bowling, after Junaid Khan contributed little more than some comedy fielding last time out. Wahab Riaz is his most likely replacement with Aizaz Cheema probably still unfit. Even if they do make a change, it’s likely to be only a small one. The plan will remain very much as it has been – get the spinners on early and apply pressure to the England batsmen. It’s been mightily effective so far.
In a crueller world (such as the post-apocalyptic one seen in 1995’s Waterworld) England could easily have chosen this moment to jettison a number of their top six. Messrs Strauss, Pietersen, Bell and Morgan have barely a run between them, proving a collective failure at a level not seen since 1995’s Waterworld. While Strauss has the captaincy to ensure his place and Pietersen and Bell have big runs in the not-so-distant past, the main thing in Eoin Morgan’s favour is that his potential replacement is Ravi Bopara. That is unless England surprise everyone with a five man bowling attack and move Matt Prior up to six, but there’s probably more chance of a cinematic 3D re-release of Waterworld than that.
In terms of the bowling, England actually excelled in Abu Dhabi. Monty Panesar bowled beautifully in tandem with Graeme Swann while the two seamers also did an excellent job. It would be extremely harsh for any of the four to lose their places. Despite having the best figures, Panesar could be the unlucky one if England feel that a third seamer is required. Based on the Dubai pitch for the first Test however, it seems unlikely as well as downright mean. Having the option of two seamers and two spinners is a relatively new one for England and one that’ll they need to use at various points throughout the year, so they may as well just get on with it here.
England to bat better than the second innings in Abu Dhabi but still be clueless against slow bowling, regardless of whether’s there’s actually any turn or not. Despite that, another hard-working performance from the bowlers will be enough to earn them the victory that they probably should have got in Dubai. Both teams to finish the series saying ‘wait until we play you at home’. Actually scratch that last bit, as these two teams aren’t an absolute disgrace.