With the battle between Pakistan and England due to commence in Tuesday, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Pakistan are set to continue with the two-spinner strategy that has served them well in recent times. However, I have always felt you have to look at a number of things before arriving at such a decision – past performance is not necessarily an indicator of future success and different opposition line-ups provide varying challenges whilst also exhibiting varying weaknesses. Pitch conditions of course also influence team selection.
Given his recent form and experience, it is obvious that Umar Gul is the right choice to lead the attack. It is also heartening to see all of the bowlers looking fit and ready - sometimes it’s a challenge in itself to identify bowlers who are fit enough for Test match cricket, but at the moment it appears this is not a major concern in the Pakistani squad. Other areas to consider are form and rhythm, and whether a pitch suits a particular bowler. Also, although it has become unfashionable for teams to be selected based on opposition weaknesses, such points are also important to review before making the final decision.
If Pakistan decide to go with just two seamers, I would select Wahab Riaz alongside Umar Gul. Wahab is occasionally wayward, but he is the one bowler from all the available options who is capable of bowling at 90 miles per hour. It depends on whether Wahab is match-fit– Aizaz Cheema has played quite a few test matches recently and has proven his fitness, but Wahab himself has also been taking wickets in domestic cricket and has had a good season for National Bank.
My third seamer, should pitch conditions be conducive to such a decision, would be Aizaz Cheema. Even in the Middle East, early in the day it can be a little cooler and the pitches can offer quite a bit of assistance to pace bowlers - there may be very little grass on the pitch, but there will be moisture which causes the ball to seam.
I would expect England to focus on the strengths which have contributed to their success in the last seven or eight series – that of pace and swing bowling, although the likes of Jimmy Anderson and Chris Tremlett won’t have the kind of advantage they enjoy in England. England may well be tempted to select a second spinner, particularly given Graeme Swann picked up a minor injury recently and Monty Panesar’s five wickets in the warm-up game, but Pakistan have the advantage in that Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq and the others are good players of spin. England will no doubt also assess pitch conditions. I think England will select Tremlett, Anderson, Broad and Swann.
I would hope to see some spinning tracks, as this would not only aid the Pakistani batsmen who are better players of spin than their English counterparts, but also supplement the strength of the spin bowlers Ajmal, Rehman and Hafeez. Every team takes advantage of home conditions and Pakistan should be no different.
We have observed the first hour of every day offering assistance to the bowlers in the UAE. However, teams will have to devise strategies for the periods after this when the pitches flatten out. There isn’t a lot of grass and as a result this will roughen up the ball, meaning Wahab Riaz and Umar Gul will be important as they are adept at utilising reverse swing. It’s something we have lost in recent times – the ability to reverse swing the ball – Waqar Younis worked with the bowlers for two years and should really have imparted more knowledge in this regard. Wahab especially will be important, as sheer pace is central towards attaining reverse swing. The team will have to look after the ball, but once it starts to reverse, my money would be on Wahab Riaz as he’s the one who is capable of consistently bowling over 90 miles per hour.
Both sides have good, if contrasting bowling resources and I look forward to seeing a competitive series between two teams who have experienced success of late.