Wow, it feels like forever since England last pulled on their whites to play Test Cricket, to be precise it will have been 148 days by the time they step onto the pitch in Dubai tomorrow when they face Pakistan in a three match series in the U.A.E. Their last test series against India saw a 4-0 whitewash and them crowned number one in the world, so now sees the start of the hard task of consolidating this position.
Conditions in the U.A.E. will be unfamiliar, this is England's first tour there, they will also not be the easiest conditions to win matches. In fact, since Pakistan have been using Dubai and Abu Dhabi as their proxy home games 1 out of 5 tests has had a positive result (a win for Pakistan in the series against Sri Lanka, 1-0 after 3 tests, with South Africa playing the other two drawn tests). Since their time in England in 2010 Pakistan have also been playing very cautious cricket, as if to try and repair their damaged reputation, therefore I feel it will be difficult for England to take 20 wickets.
There is cause for optimism though. England have won both of their tour matches, by 3 wickets and 100 runs respectively and the performance seemed to improve (although I didn't watch any). Cook has got a century to his name, scoring 235 in his 3 innings so showing good form, in the second match Trott had a good knock of 93 to get some decent time in the middle and Strauss has managed two fifties. The main downside has been the form of the middle order, Bell should be fine, he does well against Pakistan and had an incredible 2011, but there are question marks on both KP and Morgan in my mind - I hope they prove me wrong.
The bowlers have all performed really well, particularly Stuart Broad in the first game and Monty Panesar in the second. It's Monty that will provide the biggest selection headache. I feel that in these conditions the best way to play would be to have two spinners, for me this would be in place of Morgan (who bats at 6) - this is what I would do and Aggers agrees. Prior is more than capable of batting at 6, but this is where Bresnan is missed (he has an elbow injury) as he is capable at 7 with Broad at 8. However it would be a big ask to move Broad up to 7. I am sure that England will stick with the same mix that has served them so well over the past few years, which means leaving out Monty. There will then just be a question Finn or Tremlett (who are both ahead of Onions in the pecking order). Therefore I expect the side to be:
Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Bell (assuming his injury is okay), Morgan, Prior, Broad, Swann, Anderson, Tremlett.
This will lead to KP having to bowl a few overs and a lot of work for the seamers, I hope they are up to it. I wouldn't be surprised to see the bowlers rotate a bit over the three tests, the freshness of Tremlett and Bresnan coming in against Australia is one reason I felt that we were so strong in the last two test in Australia last winter.
So, I'm going to stick my neck on the line and say that I expect England to win the series, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's 1-0 rather than a whitewash that some may be hoping for. It is unusual for me to predict an England victory, I just have faith that when someone needs to step up they will, as has happened so often over the past two years or so. My main hope for the series though is that it passes without controversy and the players all get on after the recent history the two teams have shared. Hopefully this can be an advert for cricket and Pakistani cricket which has had so much negative press, particularly after the spot fixing scandal.