England will look to carry on their fine run of form in all formats over the next month and a bit. After comprehensive wins against Sri Lanka in the tests, ODI’s and T20, England will be hoping for a more competitive July and August.
Pakistan are the visitors. Currently ranked higher than England in the official ICC Test Rankings, they will hope to continue and convert their home form into away success. Star players include veteran Younis Khan, captain Misbah-ul-Haq, pacey Wahab Riaz and the notoriously gossiped about Mohammad Amir.
Pakistan last visited in 2010, where members of the team including captain Salman Butt and a young Amir were shamefully found guilty of spot-fixing, with the youngster bowling no balls on purpose. However the bowler has served his time and is back in the squad, whatever your views on the rights and wrongs of that. The controversial left armer demonstrated excellent form in a warm up match vs Somerset.
The visitors will see this tour as a chance to prove themselves abroad away from the flat surfaces in the Arab Emirates. All the pace bowlers must utilise English conditions if they are to have any joy in this series with England’s batting only getting stronger.
But that won’t be their one weapon after spinner Yasir Shah tormented England last time the two nations faced. Though highly praised by Shane Warne, he missed the World Cup after breaching doping rules but is back and ready to face England this summer. That will be one to watch.
In terms of batting, Pakistan are very well equipped. Captain Misbah-ul-Haq batted for what seemed an eternity last time the two faced, but he struggled for form vs Somerset (0 & 19). Younis Khan, who will never stop playing cricket by the way, scored a century. Other notable runs came from Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, so they will go into the first in good knock.
Most of the talking points with Pakistan come from their bowling and unforgettable pasts, but their steady batting means England will have to up their intensity from the Sri Lanka tour.
For England James Anderson will miss out through injury. He and Stuart Broad are without doubt the best opening bowling partnership, so that’s a hefty blow already and will mean Jake Ball, who was in the squad during the Sri Lanka series but failed to make an appearance, will make his international debut.
Ben Stokes also remains out, whilst Nick Compton’s decision to spend time away from the game merely preempted him being dropped from the squad. That paves way for a return for previous number three Gary Ballance.
Ballance will return to the team not as the number three but at number five in the batting order with Joe Root and James Vince moving to three and four in the order respectively, a move for Root that has been expected for a while.
This will certainly be tougher than Sri Lanka for England, but they certainly won’t struggle as much as they did against Pakistan in a 2-0 loss back last year. I think England will edge it, perhaps 2 or 3-1. Depending on rain, we may see a draw or two as well.
This test match will be the platform for a lot of players to start or restart their international careers, so you can expect a really competitive series.