England are currently ranked the Number 1 side in the Test cricket arena, and they have not played since early September and so are touring the United Arab Emirates to play Pakistan on a neutral site.
Whilst Pakistan have been depleted by the suspensions and convictions handed out to three good players, and the constant infighting of the Pakistan Cricket Board, they nevertheless remain an enigmatic side - able to please and frustrate in equal measure. They themselves are trying to rebuild their test status from its current lower ebb.
Yet due to the unified front being portrayed by them, Pakistan are settled on the side that will go against England in the first test which starts on Tuesday.
England have played their two warm up games and tellingly they are having to shuffle their pack owing to injuries and lack of form. Alastair Cook continues his fine form of late as he scored a faultless century of 133, yet his seventh wicket partnership of 90 with Matt Prior (46) saved some blushes for England as they were 121-6, with only Pietersen (38) troubling the scorers. Both Jonathon Trott and Ian Bell were dismissed for ducks off of three and two bells each, neither man is entering the Tests with significant scores nor time at the crease. Andrew Strauss remains solid, and Pietersen will score runs on any pitch. Yet the worry over England may well be the bowling line up and strategy.
Graeme Swann is carrying an injury carried over from the first warm up match, yet he still bowled in the PCB XI's first innings and got one wicket off of 18 overs, whereas Monty Panesar had figures of 29-12-57-5, good figures for Monty yet they do not tell the whole story. Panesar bowled on a pitch that had been previously used, so it was deteoriating yet Swann had some joy on the first few days of the same pitch in the first warm up match.
The answer is that England on the sub-continent have two spinners; a spinner in Swann who can attack on a flat pitch, then they have Panesar who can take wickets as it becomes harder to bat. Yet it remains England's policy to play six batsmen, one wicketkeeper and four bowlers (Swann, Anderson, Bresnan and Broad). However, Tim Bresnan is out of the tour with a reoccurence of his elbow injury so there is room for Panesar to slot in, however Panesar remains not the best fielder nor can he hold a bat as long as Bresnan clearly can (two Test scores of 90 plus).
England have some questions yet they have faith in their batting line-up to come good and apply the scoreboard pressure of huge runs. Andy Flower will more than likely pick the tried and tested line-up of one spinner in the line-up with Steve Finn filling in for Bresnan, consigning Panesar to the drinks duty. Should the task fail, expect Panesar to come in at the expense of Eoin Morgan for the second test with Matt Prior batting sixth - a place where he looks ill suited but can do the job. Obviously this makes the tail a lot longer than normal, yet you expect now one England batsmen to score a century in every innings.
The Power of Pollard
Kieron Pollard is an absolute beast in the T20 and ODI arena, his innings for Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday night 211-3 in the Caribbean T20 tournament. Pollard hit 56 off 15 balls included one over of 5 sixes, 30 runs (4 consecutively to open the over) as he laid seige to the paltry bowling offered by the Leeward Islands (the fourth went so high it delayed the game as they searched for the ball). Pollard like Pakistan is one of those enigmatic figures, so talented and unbelievably skilled with hand eye coordination yet he fails to cement a place in the West Indian test side as it seems his mind is elsewhere.