Playing ODIs at the end of test series is a bit like having foreplay after sex. Just as you’re ready to go to sleep after the main event, you’ve got some fiddly business to attend to. ODIs were so much more satisfying when they served as the warm-up to the test series. Heaven knows why they swapped them around.
However, while the prospect of an ODI series in the UAE is usually about as thrilling as a post coital trip to the local STD clinic (or so I hear), I’m actually looking forward to these games for a change. England played some excellent limited overs cricket last summer, and it will be interesting to see if they can sustain their momentum on slow pitches overseas.
Can we be successful in the upcoming series? Most definitely. Anything is technically possible. I do think it will be hard work though. Although we won the ODI series the last time we played in the UAE (after losing the tests of course) this England team is a rather different animal.
Although it could be argued that England are a better ODI team now than they were a few years ago, it’s arguable whether this applies in alien conditions. Much as we’d all prefer to play these matches back at Headingley or the Riverside, they’re actually taking place in a broad geographical area where England have traditionally struggled: a large land mass known as ‘anywhere outside the UK’.
What’s more, although we won 4-0 against Pakistan three years ago, Pietersen and Cook scored literally two thirds of our runs in that series (go and look in the archives). They’re not available for various reasons this time – I assume because they’ve gone camping together.
England also boasted a number of other players who had performed consistently well in Asian conditions last time out: Swann, Trott and even Ravi Bopara (who had played a little IPL) all played their part. This time England’s team is an unknown quantity. I accept it’s an exiting unknown quantity, but it’s an unknown quantity nevertheless.
Unfortunately, the little we do know about the current group of players doesn’t particularly bode well either: the likes of Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow have struggled mightily against spin bowling on slow tracks in the past. What’s more, the quality of our own spin bowlers is frightful. Moeen is in desperately poor form and I fear the worst when it comes to Rashid against this opposition.
What’s more, England are missing all the bowlers that gave Pakistan a hard time in the test series. There’s no Anderson, Broad, Wood or Stokes. The seam bowler who did all the damage back in 2012, Steve Finn, is also missing through injury.
In their place, England have a rather motley crew of county hopefuls. While the likes of Jordan, Willey, Woakes and Topley can look like reasonable performers on English pitches, where the new ball can swing and seam around, none of them are top quality bowlers at this stage in their career. They’re neither quick, unorthodox, experienced nor particularly skilful. They’re possibly the worst group of seamers to represent England overseas for a long time. There, I said it.
England’s cause isn’t completely without hope, however. Although England’s squad is likely to be as comfortable as Bruce Reid on ice-skates if the pitches turn, Pakistan are no great shakes in limited overs cricket at the moment either. Yasir Shah hasn’t been as successful in ODIs as in test cricket, and there’s no Saeed Ajmal to worry about either.
Having said that, Pakistan are probably better than their world ranking of 8th suggests. They’ve messed about with their team in the past – which was tantamount to rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic – but their selectors have shown more consistency of late. The current team seems a lot more settled.
The inclusion of four spinners in their squad – Yasir, Zafar Gonar, Shoaib Malik and Bilal Asif – suggests they’ve correctly identified England’s Achilles heel too. Although, to be fair, they’d have to be pretty stupid to miss it.
Although I fancy Pakistan to win the series, the games should at least be pretty entertaining. The bottom line is that neither of these teams is particularly good – and when two bad teams play against each other, the results are usually very watchable: no position will be insurmountable because both teams will be equally capable of collapsing in a heap at any moment.
The sideshow to the series, of course, is whether Alex Hales can score some runs and force their way into the test side for South Africa. It will be interesting to see how Hales shapes up against Wahab Riaz. I have severe doubts about his ability to face the new ball at international level but he does have some talent. It will be interesting to see if he’s worked on his batting technique – as well as his tea-making technique – over the last few weeks. We wish him well.
I’ll also be interested to see how Hales compares to Jason Roy. Although I was initially a sceptic when Roy was selected last year, the Surrey biffer actually caught my eye in the end. He looked a lot more organised and composed than Hales did against the new ball. Maybe it’s just my desperation for England to find their own version of David Warner talking here, but Roy looked a lot more suited to the rigours of test cricket than Hales. We’ll see.