Monday, 2 August 2010

England's Pre-Ashes Series Against Pakistan

Yesterday lunchtime the England cricket team completed an emphatic victory in the first of a four Test series against Pakistan. Although impressive, this was a victory in a series that seems to have more in common with the Premiership teams' recent pre-season tours to America than an English summer Test series.

It has been reported that Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower had banned talk about this winter's Ashes series from England's dressing room at Trent Bridge. This would have made the squad the some of the only people in the stadium who did not already seem to be looking ahead to the trip Down-Under.

Every positive and negative from England's performance in the first Test was judged not on its bearing in the match or series but in its relevance for when we come to face Australia.

'Swing King' Jimmy Anderson stole the headlines yet again, but how will he fare in less favourable Australian conditions? Should Cook, who has such a poor batting average against the Aussies, be dropped for the next Tests to give someone else a chance to open with Strauss?

Each player is not working towards beating Pakistan but auditioning for a place in the touring squad. Pakistan represent the MLS All-stars in England's warm-up, the series just a sideshow before the real thing gets under way. It is somewhat disrespectful to Pakistan and very tedious for viewers.

I would never be as naïve as to suggest that the Ashes ought to be ignored. It is something that must be kept in mind. The coaches will, of course, use the current series to assess certain technical or tactical issues.

It seems unfair, however, that commentators, pundits and journalists are treat this summer's home series as a means to an ends rather than in an end in itself. There is a middle ground to be found.

Every series in Test match cricket is unique and can be treated in isolation. There is no league, no cup. Each series stands alone. You always want to improve your team and will have things to work towards but no series should be a prelude to another. Look too far ahead and England will risk stumbling on the challengers immediately before them.

A Test series in England against Pakistan is extremely different from an Ashes series Down-Under. Pakistan provide their own challenges and moments from these matches should not be cut from their context and fast-fowarded into hypothetical scenarios months away.

As for their performance in the first Test. England's 354 run victory in the first Test contained many positives as well some minor concerns. They may have won easily but the visitors did not prove to be too stern of a opponent.

Pakistan's fielding was woeful for large parts of the first Test. Their batting line-up, which lacks experience, quality and depth, was exposed in bowler friendly conditions. Pakistan's seam attack, Aamer and Asif in particularly, did look dangerous, however. They proved themselves against Australia at Headingly and they troubled the English batsmen too.

Paul Collingwood won't have been able to believe his luck on day one in Nottingham. A top order collapse left England in need of a man willing to dig his heels in, stick around and get ugly runs. He has made a very successful career out of excelling in adverse situations and that first innings was no difference.

He was a rock when those who went in before him had faltered and he enabled Eoin Morgan to make a superb century. Morgan, benefiting from Ian Bell's forced absence, proved why he has the potential to be such a dangerous player to prop up the middle order.

The Irishman has a great repertoire of shots, as he has demonstrated on numerous occasions in the shorter form of the game, and a cool head. He proved he could play under the pressure of a failed top order. His best strength would probably be if he were to come to the crease with runs already on the board instead. He has the ability to pile up big scores quickly and take the game away from the opposition.

Had it not been for Collingwood and Morgan's stand on that first day, and Matt Prior's second innings century, England's victory would have been far from comfortable. The lack of runs from the batting line-up proved inconsequential thanks to England's bowlers though.

Anderson's eleven wickets confirmed him as the world's premier swing bowler. The young Steve Finn continued his promising start to Test cricket with five wickets of his own while Broad, and even more so Swann, were used sparingly.

Pietersen has come under criticism for his rusty display. Having turned down the chance to play county cricket, if only at second XIs, KP looked like a man lacking from time in the middle. This is one of the few negatives to be taken from the first Test.

Perhaps if Pakistan were a more competitive Test side at the moment there would be greater attention paid to this series rather than the one still four months away. Ultimately, it would probably unrealistic for the current series not to be seen as the final preparations before the all important winter tour.

The fact remains that the best preparation would be a convincing series win over Pakistan. The focus should be firmly on that. Reflection on the series as a whole, and its impact upon this winter's Ashes, should be saved for its completion and the intervening months.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

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