Dubai drizzle forces rethink in England’s Twenty20 preparation for Pakistan

Eoin Morgan’s England side are preparing for two games against Pakistan in Dubai and one in Sharjah, with next year’s World Twenty20 looming large

A maximum of 120 overs remain on the trip to the United Arab Emirates: three Twenty20 matches, which are traditionally regarded as the barely relevant fag-end of any expedition. Logically that should not be the case this time. The World T20 is round the corner – it takes place somewhere in India in March – and therefore the three matches against Pakistan – in Dubai on Thursday and Friday and one in Sharjah next Monday – are “very valuable”, according to Eoin Morgan.

“These matches are few and far between and this week they will be taking place in similar conditions to those we expect in India,” said the 29-year-old, who grows ever more comfortable and confident in his position as England’s white-ball captain.

He continues to stress that the whole squad has embarked upon a learning experience. “We want to continue testing ourselves and our ability and to test our boundaries,” he said. “Our progress has been outstanding since the World Cup in white-ball cricket. We’ve never taken a backward step since we’ve come together as a squad. As long as that continues and we’re really honest with ourselves and learn along the way, that will hold us in good stead for the T20 World Cup.”

For the moment the focus is on Pakistan, ranked No2 in the world as opposed to England’s No8. James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow have gone home, their places having been taken by James Vince and Stephen Parry, but the team for the first match is likely to be very similar to the one that played in all the 50-over matches. However, Morgan indicated that he would like to give most members of the squad an outing before the series is over.

There are more changes within the Pakistan lineup. Shahid Afridi, 35 years of age, is their captain, 19 years after he made his international debut. The expectation now is that Afridi’s bowling is more effective than his batting, but he still has the capacity to surprise and inspire. Another veteran of this format, Sohail Tanvir, returns to give Pakistan a triumvirate of contrasting left-armers, alongside Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz. The mischievous Umar Akmal is back in the squad at the last count.

The hope is that these T20 matches, which start at 8pm local time, will generate the largest crowds of the tour at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, which has a capacity of 25,000.

England were unable to train at the ground on Wednesday for a very unusual reason. It was drizzling in Dubai, only a dribble by Mancunian standards but enough to force England to change their plans. They were compelled to move to the ICC academy, half a mile away, and to pull rank over their juniors. The youngsters on the performance programme had been scheduled to use the facilities there.

An opportunity to meet some of the next generation was illuminating. Clearly they are relishing the chance to enhance their white-ball cricket, which is the focus of attention this winter, and everyone we listened to mentioned Worcestershire’s Ross Whiteley. He may not be the best cricketer in the party but they left us in no doubt that he is the man who hits the ball the furthest, and that obviously impresses his peers. Perhaps this is why Whiteley has hit more sixes than fours in his T20 career.

There was also scope for Kent’s Daniel Bell-Drummond to speak eloquently about the proposal to do away with the toss in the second division of the County Championship next summer. The 22-year-old caught the eye last season when hitting a sparkling century against the Australians on a true pitch at Canterbury. In his next game, in July at Grace Road and during which no spinner was required to bowl, he made seven and five on what he described as “the greenest wicket ever”.

Bell-Drummond explained how in his second innings: “I ended up having a hack and just got out because I didn’t feel I was going to get anywhere any other way. That is a bit of a shame, but at the same time I understand why counties do it [prepare sub-standard pitches] as they want to get out of the division. But as an opening batsman I do find it tough.”

Hence his initial reaction to the proposed change: “It will be brilliant.”


Vic Marks in Dubai

The GuardianTramp

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