If England had beaten Pakistan comfortably in their Test match series, there would have still been some nerves ahead of the One Day Internationals, such is the away side’s perceived inconsistency in this format, particularly in Asian conditions. However, following the three-nil loss, expectations are so low that in some respects, anything but an absolute trouncing will be considered positive.
Pakistan have won 15 of their previous 18 ODIs, although since the World Cup semi-final defeat to India they have played only Ireland (2-0) Sri Lanka (4-1) Bangladesh (3-0) and Afghanistan (1-0).
As in the Test matches, it is likely that Pakistan will try to torment England with spin; in addition to Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Hafeez and Abdur Rehman, the selectors have also picked Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik in their squad. Whichever combination (certainly three and possibly four) plays, they will be confident of taking regular wickets and restricting the England run-rate. Meanwhile Umar Gul is one of the best exponents of swing in this format; though it remains to be seen which of Wahab Riaz, Junaid Khan and Aizaz Cheema will support him.
The batting line-up is established: Imran Farhat to open with Hafeez followed by the same middle order as the Test matches. Two of the Akmal brothers (Umar and Adnan) will vie for the wicket-keeper’s gloves.
After a largely successful summer (beating Sri Lanka 3-2 and India 3-0), England crashed spectacularly to India in the autumn: losing 5-0 with only Steven Finn really coming out of the series with much credit to his name.
The England management have already confirmed that Kevin Pietersen will open the batting with Alastair Cook, meaning that Craig Kieswetter will drop down the order to no. 5 or 6. Seemingly England’s obsession with finding their own Adam Gilchrist has faded, though for how long we are unsure. No doubt a few (s)low scores from Cook, Pietersen or Trott will result in a clamour for Kieswetter’s return to opener. With England unlikely to drop Jonathan Trott or Eoin Morgan at this stage, it would thus seem that Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Ravi Bopara are competing for the final batting slot. Such was Buttler’s recent form with the England Lions (two centuries against Sri Lanka A) that we hope him to get the nod, although a hand injury may preclude him from the first match.
As ever, it will be difficult to find the right balance with the ball. Obviously five bowlers are required in limited overs cricket; ideally there should be a sixth in case one of the five are injured or bowling badly. With Samit Patel likely to be preferred to Danny Briggs, expect to see him bat at seven, though there is a chance he could bat one higher instead of one of the abovementioned batsmen.
For some reason, England have chosen five quick bowlers in their squad. Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan are definite selections and Jade Dernbach surely the weakest option, meaning Finn and James Anderson will be the final decision. We hope it’s the former, but suspect it may be the Lancastrian who is opted for.
Frankly, after our overly-optimistic predictions for the Test series, we are now expecting some kind of diabolical performance from England, probably involving lots of dot balls and a comedy run out.
Pakistan are clear favourites, but expect England’s bowlers to at least do admirably with the ball. However the main worry is how the batting will fare against the legion of spinners.