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Simon Hughes: Batting first may not be vital to England’s hopes of winning

31 Oct | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Simon Hughes: Batting first may not be vital to England’s hopes of winning

The Analyst says Sharjah, which hosts the third Test between Pakistan and England, is the flattest of the three UAE pitches

After five days’ rest, two sets of footsore, fatigued players will make the short journey from their plush hotel to do battle once more this weekend.

No, we are not talking the All Blacks and the Wallabies here, but England and Pakistan for the third Test in Sharjah on Sunday.

The hard slog of the past two weeks has caused one or two changes in personnel, but the fare on the pitch will be the same.

Nothing in the surface for the seamers (though Jimmy Anderson could find a four-leaf clover in a desert), a diet of spin (from Pakistan anyway) and batsmen attempting to play the percentage game and grind out big scores.

There would have been a time, a generation ago, when England would have rejoiced at the news that Imran Khan was ruled out of the deciding Test match of a series.

The famous Imran, one of the greatest cricketers of the last century, not only regularly terrorised batsmen and made valuable runs, but also presided over Pakistan’s first ever Test series win in England.

The Imran Khan who has injured his hand and will not be opening the bowling in Sharjah is a less significant absentee, though he did take four useful wickets during Pakistan’s victory in Dubai.

Spinners will be doing the bulk of the bowling on what is often regarded as the flattest of three flat UAE pitches.

England make two changes.

James Taylor comes in for Jos Buttler (with Johnny Bairstow keeping).

Taylor deserves his chance.

He is an invigorating presence in the dressing room and on the pitch, bursting with energy and enthusiasm.

He will need to somehow control that energy, though, as batsmen who are over-eager generally fail in Test cricket.

But he is a good player of spin who, like Joe Root, uses his feet and is busy at the crease. It is right that he replaces Buttler who, temporarily, had become a walking wicket.

The rested Mark Wood’s place will be taken by Liam Plunkett.

He offers the same sort of bowling option – fast and aggressive, mixing up his lengths (alternating between short and full) – and what he lacks in subtlety he will make up with strength and stamina.

He is as strong as an ox, but he will find wicket-taking tough.

I think England will miss Wood’s deceptively-whippy arm.

Both leg spinners in the contest, England’s Adil Rashid and Pakistan’s Yasir Shah, have had the benefit of Shane Warne’s advice in the run up to the match.

You could say that nullifies the effect, although because Shah is the more experienced and accomplished protagonist at present, he is likely to profit more.

Pakistan’s extra batting experience in these conditions – four of them have made centuries in the series so far compared to only one Englishman (Alistair Cook, though Root keeps threatening) – is likely to be telling.

They boast the underrated Asad Shafiq at six, who averages 70 in the series.

And Pakistan only need a draw to triumph.

But winning the toss and batting first may not be as vital to England’s hopes as it appears.

The last two Tests in Sharjah were won by the team that lost the toss and was consigned to batting second.

What they need to remember is that irrespective of when you go in to bat in these parts, the philosophy remains the same: get in and stay in.

For a long time.

Pakistan v England third Test betting