Five Things We Learned: England’s Pakistan Warm-Up

England’s last Test tour started somewhat farcically. A pair of warm-up games for the Test series against the West Indies saw a St. Kitts and Nevis Invitational XI taught the tourists very little; the opposition was so weak that the first match saw an aggregate of 135/17 by the hosts and 379/3 (excluding retirements) by England’s side, and the second game involved Jonathan Trott, Gary Ballance, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Mark Wood and Liam Plunkett appearing for the Caribbean side. Other than Adil Rashid’s lack of form, the games proved nothing.

Therefore, a pair of two-day games against a real opposition, Pakistan A, would have been eagerly anticipated by the England coaching staff. Predictably, the matches both ended in a draw, with the second turning into a day of bowling and a day of batting regardless of wickets, but at least there was plenty that the tourists could take from this experience.

1. Jos Buttler’s place is in danger

After 122 runs at an average 15.25 in this summer’s Ashes series, and scores of 4 and 0 in the two ODIs he played in against Australia directly after, Jos Buttler’s batting has left a lot to be desired in recent times. Furthermore, his well-documented weakness against spin and Jonny Bairstow’s ability to keep wicket leave his spot vulnerable.

On the first day of the tour, he came in at number seven, and, facing his third delivery, was trapped lbw to the left-arm spin of Zafar Gohar for just one.

In the second game, Buttler was promoted to number five in an attempt to give him as much batting practice as possible, but was caught behind for just eight off the bowling of seamer Mir Hamza. It took him 28 balls to reach that score, in an innings that brought back memories of his 22-ball duck against the West Indies in Antigua earlier this year; he struggled to find any sort of rhythm or fluency in his batting. However, it has been agreed that England would spend the whole day batting regardless of how many wickets were lost, and thus he resumed in the middle later in the day, grinding his way to an unbeaten 74-ball 32.

Buttler definitely needs a score in the first game of the tour; with James Taylor, seemingly brought as a back-up batsman, making 61 in his only innings of the tour thus far, his place will be under immense threat with a pair of failures.

2. Steven Finn is posing a selection dilemma

England’s line-up for the first of the two warm-up games looked like the one which will take to the field against Pakistan in the first Test on Tuesday; with the spin pairing of Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali and the quartet of seamersBen Stokes, James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Mark Woodproviding the side with real balance.

However, after a remarkable spell on Thursday, Steven Finn has put his name into strong contention for a spot. His opening spell of 2-2 in seven overs, which included five maidens, put England firmly in the ascendancy from ball one, and after two wickets in three balls after lunch, he had four wickets for just two runs at one stage. His final figures of fifteen overs, eight maidens, sixteen runs and four wickets outlined his ability to generate pace in Asian conditions, and Wood and even Anderson may be nervously looking over their shoulders.

3. Moeen Ali will open the batting

Despite being dismissed for 22, 7 and 12 in his three innings during the warm-up games, Moeen Ali is set to open the batting for England. Having been stuck at number eight during the Ashes series, the Worcestershire all-rounder is set to open the batting for the first time in his first-class career in Abu Dhabi.

Coach Trevor Bayliss said that Moeen had a “good chance” of opening, and Joe Root said he was “sure [Moeen] will rise to the challenge” of batting at the top of the order. Alex Hales’ ODI form was poor against Australia, and his one innings on the tour brought about a single figure score.

4. James Taylor is an excellent player of spin

The 25-year-old James Taylor has a great chance of adding to his two Test caps this series. He averaged 49.2 against Australia in the ODI series, often facing up against the two new balls due to Hales’ poor form, and made 45 (retired not out) and 16 in the second two-day game at the start of this tour.

Standing at just 5’5″, Taylor is a surprisingly powerful player, and uses his wrists to great effect when playing the ball. Although he is likely to start the tour as a back-up batsman, if he is needed, Bayliss can rely on him to do a good job.

5. England’s catching is not flawless

A short, pre-Ashes training camp in Spain organised by Trevor Bayliss was ridiculed by many fans as a glorified meet-and-greet session, with players missing a round of county fixtures to ‘build sandcastles’. However, it was repeatedly cited by players as a strong reason for England’s improved catching in the Ashes series, and saw a significant increase in the number of slip catches held.

However, on the first day of the first warm-up game, England were not faultless in this regard. Alastair Cook dropped Iftikhar Ahmed at first slip, Moeen Ali put down a caught-and-bowled chance off Fawad Alam and Adnan Akmal edged a shot into the gap between wicket-keeper and first slip, which neither Buttler nor Cook went for.

“The one thing we’ve just had a quick chat about is that, to win a Test match, you’ve got to take 20 chances – and we’ve missed a couple of chances,” commented assistant coach Paul Farbrace. “That’s something we’ll have to work very hard on, and something we prided ourselves on in the Ashes series.”

Overall, England’s game against the A team proved a useful Pakistan warm-up; they endured a period of acclimatisation to the heat, and several selection dilemmas have sprung up.