By Vithushan Ehantharajah (@Vitu_E)
Congratulations to Pakistan for a very well executed series win over England. A lot is made about Pakistan’s new-found unity and fellowship in the absence of disruptive egos, but it’s important we, as cricket fans, pay homage to the abundance of talent in the Islamic state.
It’s not your typical conveyor belt – it’s a rickety old thing that has needed replacing for a while now. People have come in and had a look at it; its jagged cogs still turning – if you can call it turning – as black smoke seeps out from its antiquated engine.
Many have tried reinforcing the sides to stop things falling off. Some, foolishly, have tried to get in and amongst the inner mechanism, thinking they could effectively refurbish it all from the inside out (the severed fingers should have been a warning). Others merely stood by, oiling it every now and again, occasionally glancing at the “Nose applicator” wondering if they should turn it down to 4 inches, just because it was closer than the “common sense” dial.
If this was a real factory it would have been shut down and burnt to the ground years ago – mainly because of all the severed limbs and, you know, production of humans stuff.
Pakistan’s first win in Dubai was a result of their bamboozlement of England, twice, and a patient display with the bat. Their second was evidence of something we haven’t seen of a Pakistan side in a long, long time – grit.
England were ahead on points, winning three of the four rounds. Pakistan batted first and scored under 500 in two innings – England were more than half way there after just one, but at no point during the fourth innings did Pakistan think they couldn’t win. You could see it in Mohammed Hafeez’s eyes as he took the new ball, once he brushed his hair to one side. England’s middle order imploded, but it was Misbah Ul-Haq who applied the pressure in the right places, and at the right time.
Rotating Ajmal, Rehman and the floppy-haired Hafeez is one thing, but his “blanking” of Junaid Khan worked a treat. Khan is a talented bowler and he struggled to find his length in the first innings (his 4.12 was the highest economy rate of the match), but it would have been easy for Misbah to throw him the ball for the sake of it.
Misbah may not be the most flamboyant of characters, but he is capable of injecting a bit of flamboyancy into his captaincy at the right time. Completely ignoring one of your opening bowlers, when defending 144 – albeit on that Abu Dhabi pitch - is flamboyant. As is using the word flamboyant three times in one paragraph.
Pakistan may choose to recall Cheema in place of Khan, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Mohsin Khan and Misbah decide to let a winning side be.
England are fighting for more than pride as they return to Dubai for the third and final Test. As India have shown, there is a difference between being the best team in the world, and being the number one ranked team in the world. Luckily, it’s only their batting that needs to be addressed – specifically Eoin Morgan.
Sure, Pietersen and Bell look all at sea, while Strauss looks uglier than an out of form Graeme Smith in drag, but Morgan seems to be battling with some serious demons. For England’s best player of spin, it’s harrowing to see him flounder on the back-foot, anchored down by his own self-doubt. The issue for the Irishman is that he’s too unorthodox to recoil and rely on his technique to get him out of trouble, especially when his footwork is so laboured.
While Bopara should (but probably won’t) come in to replace Morgan, the Irishman may be saved from the chop should Bell not recover from a stomach bug. Otherwise, it’s as you were, with the form of the revitalised Monty Panesar now giving England more variety in an ever-impressing bowling unit.
Pakistan want to win 3-0 and cement their place – on Twitter, at least - as the best side in Asia. England want to win a Test away from home to show they’re not India in disguise.
One thing is for sure, there is still a lot to play for in this Third test! Other than the series itself, of course...
*Join us on Test Match Sofa from 5.45am GMT on Friday for live ball-by-ball coverage of the third Test between Pakistan and England in Dubai.