Pakistan the next big test

The euphoria of England’s Ashes victory over mighty Australia is still very fresh in the memory, but now is not a time for them to be resting on their laurels. Towards the end of this month (October), they will be jetting out to take on Pakistan on their home patch for the first time in five years – a far from straightforward prospect.

The last time the teams met on the sub-continent, the series ended in dramatic fashion with Nasser Hussain’s England edging the final test match under the warming glow of the streetlights of Karachi. Their recent meteoric rise up the world rankings leads one to believe that England should win, but Pakistan will certainly not roll over.

Indeed, the last time the sides met was in England in 2001 when a ridiculously short two match series was shared 1-1, but it was a few months earlier that a Gough-and-Giles-induced second innings collapse left England requiring 176 and with half a day to make them. A painfully slow over rate encouraged Steve Bucknor to keep the players in the field as the sun headed for the horizon despite the protests of a quite apoplectic Moin Khan, and the rest is history.

Ashley Giles and Marcus Trescothick are the only members of that victorious England team who will take part in the forthcoming series, whereas for Pakistan, pretty well their entire middle order from five years ago are still available today, as well as the mercurial talent that is Shahid Afridi. Recent selections have indicated that Pakistan are looking to the future, however, so the forthcoming series may well be a swan-song for one or more of the ‘old guard’.

For England, the absence of Simon Jones will be a major disappointment, especially in light of the fact that he is developing into a truly world-class exponent of the mesmeric witchcraft that is ‘reverse swing’. Pakistan is, of course, a country that has produced so many great exponents of the science, a fact that puzzled and irritated English journalists and players alike in years gone by. It would have been interesting, to say the least, to see how Jones would have fared, given the usually abrasive nature of the pitches.

One man’s misfortune can easily become an opportunity for another, and it is still possible that Chris Tremlett will fill the fourth seamer’s berth alongside Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff, although he too is struggling with a long-term knee injury that threatens his place on the tour. With that in mind, the selectors have sensibly added up-and-coming Durham starlet Liam Plunkett to the test squad.

Shaun Udal’s selection implies that England may employ two spinners as a matter of course. There is no logic whatsoever in having him along just for the ride, therefore one can assume that he will be turning his arm over at some stage during the tour.

The biggest question mark hanging over either bowling department, though, is that hovering around Shoaib Akhtar. Accusations of a lack of fitness and application were being bandied around when he was overlooked for the West Indies series, but it is surely inconceivable that Pakistan would consider entertaining England without their speedster in harness.

Recent days have brought more recognition the way of two of England’s high profile stars in the form of some of the prestigious ICC gongs, handed out at their annual bean-feast in Sydney. Andrew Flintoff shared the ‘Player of the Year’ accolade with Jacques Kallis, whereas Kevin Pietersen picked up both the ‘One Day Player’ and the ‘Emerging Player’ trophies.

The England squad arrives in Pakistan on 26th of October, and the schedule, although quite hectic, is sensibly balanced with ample preparation time before the series proper. The players will have 4 days to get ready before their first game, a 3-day affair in Rawalpindi that doesn’t attract first-class status. The first test match starts in Multan on 12th of November, from which point it’s tests and one-dayers all the way until mid-December.

Although it is tempting to say that it is a vital series for both sides for one reason or another, the tragic events of recent days have once again served as a timely reminder that it is just a sporting contest between two friendly nations. Let us hope that the air of normality that cricket inevitably brings comes as a welcome relief to a country suffering so dreadfully following the terrible earthquake.

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