Is a 2012-style disaster on the horizon?
In the box office smash, '2012', Earth's inhabitants fight against the clock as the planet threatens to implode. The next 158 minutes are full of mass catastrophe as capital city set pieces crash down and generally everything that was ever worth building turns to dust. NASA called it the most absurd science fiction movie of all time. I guess people like to pay to see the world obliterated.
At Abu Dhabi in January 2012 – in real time now, ladies and gentlemen – Andrew Strauss's team was destroyed in 143 minutes. That’s still enough time for another volcano, full-on flood and the end credits to roll on the original concept of Team England.
This particular episode of cricket hell is probably archived in a deep pit underground by the ECB. It is wholly unsuitable on grounds of entertainment (72 runs for 10 wickets in 36 overs).
Chief architects of the downing of the Flower Empire that day were Pakistan’s Abdur Rehman, who took 19 wickets in the series, and Saeed Ajmal who took 24. It was strangulation by slow left arm allied to doosra destruction.
Some 48 of the 60 English wickets lost in that series were to spin. England have now returned to the scene where their plans for world domination began to disintegrate.
England had arrived in the Emirates three years ago as the number one ranked team in Tests. Their practice sessions consisted of smashing balls out of the park, according to former Pakistan opener Mudassar Nazar.
A few weeks later, their 'bat nav' system careered into the wrong orbit. Players were stuck on the crease. Straight balls were missed. Brain freezes were a constant. Runs dried up.
Jonathan Agnew noted: "The footwork of England's batsmen was all over the place, and it is clear some of them have no confidence when it comes to playing spin in these conditions."
So what has changed now? England and Pakistan are now virtually side by side in the Test rankings, third and fourth respectively. Ajmal has fallen from grace, having been banned for a suspect action and is unlikely to play Test cricket again.
Rehman has fallen down the pecking order. Even Pakistan leg-spinner Yasir Shah, the quickest Pakistan bowler to 50 test wickets, is out with injury while Adil Rashid finally makes his Test debut. Things don't seem so bad.
The tourists still have to cope with conditions that will test their skill and temperament. It is doubtful whether England are equipped to cope for four sessions unless Cook rediscovers the joy of batting forever and Root finds his Ashes form. The batting is full of exciting but chancy stroke makers.
Michael Vaughan has already questioned England’s preparations just as Mudassar did on the previous tour. Trevor Bayliss put out a side of 15 to play Pakistan A, in two two-day games, separated by one day, that included the home side finishing 198-12 at the end. It hardly augurs well when warm-up games are treated like extended net sessions.
What kept them in the ball game in 2012 was the quality of Anderson and Broad. The senior duo may find it hard going this time round although they will have the horseplay of Mark Wood to gee them up.
Stokes, Buttler and Bell are not exactly crease occupiers at the moment. Mooen Ali has been thrown into the opening position and will have to sink or swim. Would you put your garden shed on England not being five down in a very short space of time?
Novak Djockovic was inspired to win the US open last month by watching Gerard Butler’s Spartans defy the odds in 300. England might just take that score first up. They will certainly be up against it if Misbah-ul-Haq or Younis Khan get their eye in during the series.
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