ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq believes no matter how sharp England’s improvement is in the second test starting on Wednesday his side still has the edge.
The edge is offspinner Saeed Ajmal, who took his second career 10-wicket haul as England was humiliated by 10 wickets inside three days of the first test in Dubai last week.
The Sheikh Zayed Stadium pitch in Abu Dhabi is expected to be a batsmen’s paradise, but if anyone can cause trouble it’s Ajmal, Misbah said.
“I think the edge we have with Ajmal is that he has variation, which no bowler has had recently,” he said. “But here the most important difference will be the batting of the two teams; whichever team scores more will have the advantage.”
Ajmal’s bowling action came under scrutiny in some media after England failed to read his doosra.
However, Misbah said his offspinner was not bothered about the criticism.
“No, I don’t think so because of the way he behaves throughout the game,” he said. “He is a very jolly person and enjoys the atmosphere around the dressing room.”
Ajmal and Pakistan will have to produce something special to force a result which would seal the three-match series.
Both previous tests in Abu Dhabi — Pakistan-South Africa in 2010 and Pakistan-Sri Lanka last October — have been drawn, and Misbah believed a result on the placid pitch will be hard to come by again.
“I think that’s a big ask for a fielding and bowling side to get 20 wickets because this is a good batting wicket,” Misbah said.
The Dubai pitch also held no demons for the batsmen, but England’s Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen contributed to their demise by falling to some atrocious shot selection.
Fix that, though, and England’s first appearance at Sheikh Zayed Stadium could be bountiful. The two previous tests yielded three double centuries to South Africa’s AB de Villiers, Pakistan’s Taufeeq Umar and Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara.
“It’s a totally different ballgame now, the wicket is different, the conditions are different,” Misbah said.
While Pakistan is unlikely to tinker with its winning XI, England will wait until the morning of the match to decide whether to play fast bowler Chris Tremlett.
Tremlett played his first test at Dubai since his back injury in August, and hurt it again in the match.
“He had a sore back and he’s going to bowl back today before we know whether he is fit or not,” Strauss said.
“He’s a big lad … but it’s always been the case that he gets sore after a fair amount of bowling. Generally he’s been pretty good at recovering from that but we are not obviously 100 per cent sure at this stage.”
Strauss’ own batting form hasn’t been flash, with just one century in the last 26 innings — the last against Australia at Brisbane 14 months ago.
“Having been around the test match scene for a while now, I know form ebbs and flows,” Strauss said.
“I’m not overly fussed about it but I’m obviously conscious that as a captain you lead from the front with regards to scoring runs.”
He did not want to read too much into the fact that only three times has England rebounded to win a three-test series after losing the first.
“It’s how you come back from setbacks which is the true measure of a side,” he said.
“This gives us a good opportunity to show that, it gives us an opportunity to show our resilience and character and our fight and our hunger and all those things people associate with a good side. We’ve got a great opportunity over the next five days to show that.”
Pakistan has been forced to play its ‘home’ series mainly in the United Arab Emirates since 2009 after gunmen attacked the Sri Lanka team bus at Lahore.
Pakistan (from): Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Imran Farhat, Taufeeq Umar, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Umar Akmal, Adnan Akmal, Umar Gul, Junaid Khan, Aizaz Cheema, Wahab Riaz, Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman.
England (from): Andrew Strauss (captain), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Graham Onions, Chris Tremlett, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Steve Davies, Monty Panesar, Ravi Bopara.