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Pak and Eng ready for Test showdown

Reuters
Jan 16, 2012 at 11:09pm IST

Dubai: A rivalry riddled with acrimony resumes on neutral territory in Dubai on Tuesday with England seeking to consolidate their world number one ranking against a Pakistan side rebuilding after the 2010 corruption scandal.

Pakistan have been forced to play all their home matches abroad for the foreseeable future after an armed attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore three years ago.

Subsequently three leading players, including captain Salman Butt, were jailed after conspiring to bowl deliberate no-balls in the Lord's Test two years ago.

Pak and Eng ready for Test showdown

Misbah-ul-Haq (left) and Andrew Strauss pose with the trophy on the eve of the first Test in Dubai. (AP)

Pakistan's response under 37-year-old captain Misbah-ul-Haq has been admirable. Since Misbah took over, Pakistan have won six Tests and lost only once, won 13 out of 14 one-day internationals and all five of their Twenty20 matches.

England, who succeeded India as the world's top team during a 4-0 whitewash at home last year, now aim to show they are a team for all seasons.

They have not won a series in Asia for more than a decade and, after the Pakistan series, they face demanding Tests against Sri Lanka away followed by West Indies and South Africa at home and then a tour of India.

Each series between England and Pakistan has involved a controversy of some sort, reaching a nadir in 2010 when the sides were not on speaking terms in the one-day series after the Lord's Test.

Shoaib Akhtar, the former Pakistan fast bowler who retired during last year's World Cup after a colourful international career, praised both Misbah and his England counterpart Andrew Strauss at the weekend but said there would still be tension between the sides.

"Strauss is a top captain and England are lucky to have him leading them," Akhtar told PTV Sports.

"He does not believe in mind games but playing fair. Misbah-ul-Haq has also matured into a good captain for Pakistan and is a good man.

"Strauss is a heck of a gentleman but the rest of the players will be at the Pakistani players throughout the series."

PANESAR SEEKS RECALL

Pakistan have always shown a remarkable ability to regenerate their international team despite a flimsy domestic structure exacerbated now by the handicap of playing all their matches abroad.

They will rely on two players well into their thirties to bolster the batting and lead the attack respectively.

Younus Khan, captain of the Twenty20 side who won the 2009 World Cup in England, remains technically adroit, hungry for runs and a wonderful slip fielder at the age of 34.

Off-spinner Saeed Ajmal, also 34, finished 2011 with 50 Test wickets and bowls a high percentage of doosras at a brisk pace which he believes will be a plus against an England batting lineup including four left-handers.

Ajmal told Reuters he was confident of winning a high percentage of his lbw appeals with his doosra which either spins into the left-handers or straightens.

"The advantage we have is we know the conditions and pitches well now and we know what to do to take wickets," he said.

England rose to the top of the top of the world rankings with a three-pronged pace attack supplemented by off-spinner Graeme Swann.

Now left-arm spinner Monty Panesar, who has not represented his country since the first Test in the 2009 Ashes series, is pushing for a place alongside Swann after taking eight wickets against the Pakistan Cricket Board XI.

Panesar's inclusion, though, would lengthen the tail especially as the team's best late-order batsman Tim Bresnan has returned home early with an elbow injury and England are likely to stick to their tried and tested formula.

Probable Teams:

Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez, Taufeeq Umar, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Asad Shafiq, Adnan Akmal (wicketkeeper), Abdur Rehman, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Aizaz Cheema.

England: Andrew Strauss (captain), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Monty Panesar.

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