Much has been written about the effect that New Zealand’s cricket had upon England’s success in the Ashes this summer. The positive brand of cricket and the entertainment that it brought enabled some of England’s younger players to flourish in a very competitive environment. Travelling to the UAE to face Pakistan, who remain unbeaten in their temporary home, has proved too difficult for most visiting sides, but New Zealand’s recent trip there should provide England with a framework for their tactics.
Unlike this summer’s Ashes series the games are likely to span the majority of the five days and will require players to play with more patience, both batsmen and bowlers alike, and occupy game time. The five Test matches against Australia all produced results because in each game one of the sides was too brittle to maintain a fightback. Whilst entertainment was certainly provided, the quality of the play was often way below the levels expected and against Pakistan, the England team will need to concentrate and fight much more effectively than they did in the summer.
The Kiwis managed to come away from the UAE with a credible 1-1 draw in a three Test series a little under a year ago. Having lost the first Test by a big margin, they consolidated to draw the second and win convincingly in the final game. Their opening batsman for the series, Tom Latham, batted time and laid the platform for the more attacking players lower down the order. England will need Alastair Cook to do this job and drop anchor at the top of the innings. If he is able to build a secure platform for the likes of Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, then England will be able to set defendable and attacking totals.
It will also require the English middle order to bat with more responsibility than they did during the Ashes. Scoring at over four an over is all well and good, but it also ensures that Tests are more likely to end in results before the end of the fifth day. Playing in Dubai and Sharjah there will be points where batsman simply have to bat through a session and ignore the scoreboard. As yet, some of the batsmen in England’s team have not shown the application required to do this on a consistent level and again, this will prove a stern test.
Of course it is not only the batsmen that have to change their methods, it is the bowlers too. Trent Boult and Tim Southee both opened the bowling during New Zealand’s series here, but both were also able to come back and bowl containing spells too. On abrasive wickets such as these, the pace bowlers cannot go all out in the search for wickets. They need to remain patient and bowl good lines. If the ball starts reversing then they are back in contention, but it is not something one can guarantee.
The main area of concern, however, is the spin bowling department. Playing two spinners in the UAE is essential and with Moeen Ali now having secured his role as England’s number one spinner, it is likely to be Adil Rashid who will partner him. He bowled extremely well during the ODI series against Australia and his variation should hopefully see him bowl well in the UAE. Doubts do remain, however, about his temperament and his ability to handle big game pressure, but he has been around the setup for some time now and should have acclimatised.
English cricket has taken some big initial steps forward after a fairly bleak couple of years. In following New Zealand’s positive attitude in the summer, England achieved success and if they can adapt to new conditions as the Kiwis did, then England’s first part of the winter tour schedule could go better than expected. It is a huge challenge awaiting them, but if they can follow the guidelines set out by recent visitors then they could enjoy further success before heading to South Africa.
By Andy Hunter