Monday, December 5, 2011

Key Mouth Watering Battles

Strauss vs Misbah

Both leaders are very diplomatic, educated and experienced. They are two of the most well polished individuals in the sport with their off field achievements to complement their on - field sublime consistency and cherishing track records. These qualities will surely be useful in rejuvenating the relations between the two countries as both leaders present a thorough professional account of their side in their mannerisms, level headed quotes and ability to speak professionally with the press. Negative headlines and poor sportsmanship does not serve any healthy purpose to promote sport and both surely will be doing their level best to ensure things do not go out of bounds.

Both captains are tactically and strategically well known for their credentials amongst their team members and both like to lead from the front and set the example. Both of them have top notch slip fielding capabilities. Both of them know how to gel and extract the best out of their teams. Both of them have test averages in the 40s and are willing workers at the crease. Both of them are in their mid to late 30s. Both have a set and well tried workable strategy they employ at the toss if they end up calling correctly. Both have that element of sedateness and classicalness in their batting approaches. Both are controversy free characters. Both are generally rated highly by pundits. Whoever performs better could turn out to be a decisive factor in the final outcome.

I think Strauss is susceptible to spin bowling on the slow and low wickets in the UAE whereas Misbah knows the conditions better than most which will give him somewhat of an advantage to capitalise on. Moreover, some of the Pakistan bowlers have seen Strauss before whereas Misbah hasn’t played a test against England before. Strauss last played an international in August whereas Misbah has been playing all 3 formats regularly. Misbah has the height and physic to counter the tall English seamers and is pretty sound and steady against all types of spin bowling so will negotiate with Swann who will be far less threatening than his dominance in 2010 where he averaged just 12 per wicket. Strauss prefers pace on the ball and spin will be an integral part of deciding this series so the Middlesex opener will need to adapt. There might even be a temptation to give the new cherry to the Professor first up with Strauss and Cook both being left handers. Misbah will know the importance of removing Strauss early and will be doing his level best to give him some headaches in the field when he walks out to bat with his solid temperament, measured approach and firm resistance. One can expect him to outshine his counterpart.

Swann vs Ajmal

The ultimate battle of the series. Saeed Ajmal is the number 1 bowler in ODIs and number 2 in T20 internationals whereas in tests he was the leading wicket taker last year with 50 scalps which no one else had achieved in just 8 tests. Swann on the other hand was considered as the number 1 spinner in the world pre 2011 and in the early stages of 2011 and even still nowadays by many. Swann was phenomenal against Pakistan when they toured in 2010 with his sharp spinning off breaks and nagging guile, albeit against a weakened Pakistan batting line up. He is more of a conventional off spinner who will plug away with dip, drift and focus on maintaining a strong line and length, enabling him to attack both sides of the bat. Against left handed batsmen, Swann is a clever operator bringing the slip and LBW into the equation with straighter ones, non turners and ones which fizz past the outside edge. However, Pakistan only has 1 left hander in their top 7. Saeed Ajmal is more threatening and possesses greater variety with his ability to bowl both sides of the wicket and turn the balls both ways sharply as well as getting his deliveries to skid and zip off the surface, varying his trajectory and bowling at a variable pace in the air. The batsmen always tend to be searching against him and Saeed has played enough at the highest level now that he can figure out batsmen himself and really understand his strengths properly. I expect the solid, dependable, technically well equipped and disciplined Pakistan batting line up to play Swann better whereas the England top order might have more trouble picking up on Ajmal’s wide range of deliveries whereas for the tail they wouldn’t stand much of a chance unless Ajmal is bowling poorly and if recent form is anything to go by, he certainly shouldn’t. Ajmal will be pumped up to show his uniqueness and one expects him to do better, especially considering the greatest player of spin between the two teams is from the hosts, Younis Khan.

Trott vs Azhar Ali

This will be a key battle between these two resilient, determined, steady, spirited, mentally strong and workman alike gritty crease occupiers who can scrap, graft and value their presence in the middle with their disciplined approach and exemplary defensive game plans to provide the balance, variation and stability in posting totals and battling through sessions with character, heart and a clear sense of plan. They can tire, frustrate, grind, apply, accumulate and gradually work over the opposition step by step with unflappable concentration, tight line of defence, patience to absorb the pressure and tough it out and also the stamina and self trust to last the duration. Who will be tougher and more irritating to dismantle and dislodge? Both will be looking to outperform each other and provide more trouble than the other to the opposing bowlers. From Pakistan’s point of view, they will be hoping Azhar can show the same levels of gutsiness, application and grittiness to get stuck in or dig in deep and long through long partnerships, wicket less sessions and regular 250-300 minute innings and beyond. Azhar should be targeting to perform to same level if not better than Trott, at least through a 'psychologically imposing angle' with at least 3 fighting half centuries during the course of the tour. His record in the UAE is quite remarkable with 5 half centuries and 1 century in 5 tests. Azhar has only been dismissed once for less than 50 in the luxurious set ups of the Middle East Dessert. Both have played 4 tests against each other and have been performing admirably at the all important one down position since debuting in 2009 and 2010 respectively. I back Azhar to notch up the scores and average above 40 in the series and potentially even do better than his opposing number. Misbah’s men can take plenty of confidence from Azhar’s emergence as the new “Wall” of world cricket, that can really provide the responsibility and dependability which is required at this level on a regular basis with such a chanceless and sturdy style of operation. His approach provides the direction, calmness, structure and re-assurance when taking things into perspective and Strauss could argue the same with Warwickshire batsmen. Ali will compete well with Trott.

KP vs Rehman
KPs struggle against slow left arm orthodox bowlers speak for themselves and has been well documented and picked up on by many columnists and pundits. Rehman is likely to get the nod in the starting line up and surely he can be a threat for the mighty flamboyant aggressor. Either way there will be drama when the two go head to head with KP looking to take him apart. Rehman must ensure he holds his nerve and keeps it simple. He should be studying footage of how other left arm spinners have troubled KP in the past and take that into consideration. Rehman was the joint quickest Pakistan spinner to the milestone of 50 test wickets.

Anderson vs Gul

Anderson was accused of ball tampering by Gul last year so there will be some fierce competition between the two when they go head to head. Both are the senior pacers who will be looking to make a statement on those docile tracks. One can expect plenty of sledging and chin music when one is facing up to the other. Anderson will need to concentrate on penetration and pace as there will not be much sideways movement or swing available whereas Gul will be trying to shape the ball across the English left handed openers with the odd one fuller in length and darting back into those pads as the surprise change up. Gul should be focussing on giving the two a stern test of their patience. Gul will inevitably take the new cherry and will need to ensure he doesn’t provide too much width to Strauss or stray on those legs of either opener where they are very strong. Anderson will fancy getting Taufeeq and Hafeez early by getting it to deviate a fraction in those nagging channels.

Swann vs Younis

YK is a master class at encountering spin and was on an exile from national representation when the hosts toured in 2010 and played Swann woefully as the Nottinghamshire finger spinner averaged a phenomenal 12. Swann would not know what has struck him when he faces up to YK who is so tight at prodding with the full face in front of the front pad when he plants his first stride down and sweeps productively, drives smoothly and nudges around the corener tidily. YK covers the angle and spin, operates with soft hands and dabs the ball on to the turf with a firm sense of authority. If Swann gets him early, the off spinner has seen the back of prolific batsmen of spin bowling. It’s a first class education seeing YK negotiating with the spinners in the manner and ease in which he does. YK will know Swann personally from his Nottinghamshire days in 2005 so there is a possibility that they have faced up to each other in the nets in the past although that all counts for nothing in a match context.
Bell vs Shafiq

Both are technically well equipped. Both are short in stature. Both field as bat pads. Both rely on timing and elegance as opposed to explosiveness. Both bat at number 6 in the lower middle order. Both generally play spin pretty efficiently. There are some key similarities between the two although Bell is far more experienced. Can Shafiq compete and match him? England would not have seen much of the Karachi batsmen before and therefore he could be difficult to figure out first up. The pundits in the sky studio picked up on his deficiencies against short pitched bowling where he looked all at sea and therefore the tall visiting pacers might be testing him out by getting him to smell the leather. Shafiq will need to look to survive against the 2nd new ball as this is a likely time when he will be out in the middle and will need to be addressing the shorter stuff by dropping his hands and swaying out the line. There may well be times where he will be asked to shoulder the responsibility batting with the tail.

Cook and Trott vs Taufeeq and Azhar Ali

Bothhave been highly effective 2nd wicket stands for their respectivecountries. Both have a left hand right hand combination. All players involvedaverage in excess of 40 at test match level. Both partnerships have beenextremely reliable for their countries. Both rely on perseverance, resistance,controlled stroke play, mental toughness and grit to get through and look toset up the foundations for a sizeable total. Both enjoy batting with each other for both sides and have a sound understanding of each other. Both are bound to perform, but who will edgeout the other? It will be an intriguing contest seeing the pairs battling it out in the middle against some fine bowling line ups. It’s a close call.

Trott vs Wahab

After the throat grabbing incident on Monday 20thSeptember at Lords which delayed the toss for the 4th one dayinternational this was one exciting head to head we all looked forward to, butWahab has been excluded for non cricketing terms is has been understood and itis expected he will continued to be ignored for the forthcoming series, but incase he does make the squad this will be one to keep a close eye on.

Cook vs Junaid

Junaid tends to land his deliveries in the corridor of uncertainty as he probes away trying to get the Essex man pushing forward. The disgraced teenage sensation troubled him in the summer of 2010 with this line of attack and while that disgraced teenage sensation may be in prison now serving his 6 month sentence, this may not be the end of the miseries for Cook because the hosts as ever produce talented fast bowlers who fall like leaves and Junaid is no exception. Cook may be relieved with Amir’s absence; however that’s not to say he will not get through uneasy as Junaid has the potential and firepower to knock him over early in the piece with his whippy action, whole heartedness and splendid control of his line and direction. Surely Cook will be challenged.
Swann vs Taufeeq

This is more of a mini battle. Taufeeq is vulnerable against the slower bowlers. Swann will be licking his lips and will be all over him like a hot knife through butter unless Taufeeq finds a away of hanging in there, getting to the non strikers end and getting the bat down in front of the front pad. Swann is bound to have Taufeeq’s number.
England left handers vs Hafeez

Hafeez has a remarkable track record against left handed batsmen. The ‘Professor’ as he is known in the dressing room and amongst his fans as well because he likes to share his thoughts openly, is a cunning operator and has made many left handers his bunny, namely Devon Smith and Tamim Iqbal. This time he will be up against batsmen with greater pedigree, but even then he has actually troubled batsmen with his own guile and variations in all forms of the sport so we cannot rule him out. England have several left handers in their batting order and Hafeez can work them out if he is thrown the ball by Misbah-ul-Haq. One skids ongoing straighter, one drifts in from wider of the crease with a fair deal of revs, one turns and bounces after pitching. You can regard him as an all rounder. His bowling is mighty effective and consistent with those nagging trajectories, undisputable control, regular economical figures and subtle varieties. He has even opened in test matches and with 2 left handed Poms padding up first, there may be a temptation to give him the new cherry.

Mushtaq Ahmed's Presence In The English Camp

The former Pakistan leg spinner who has was integral member of Pakistan’s victorious World Cup campaign in 1992 with his mixture of leg breaks and googlies has been a regular member of the English coaching staff over the years where they have reached record breaking highs. England will be looking for his advice and services more than ever against Pakistan. Mushy, the Sussex living legend, will undoubtedly be an influential figure. He has already voiced his excitement for the series and was relishing the battle between the spinners. It should be interesting to see if Panesar has worked on his bowling if England do decide that 2 specialist spinners is the formula to go by.

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