England eager to conquer Asia ‘frontier’
England captain Andrew Strauss believes only by succeeding away to Pakistan and Sri Lanka will his side convince the whole of world cricket they deserve their number one Test ranking.
Last year England completed a 3-1 Ashes series win in Australia, all their victories coming by innings margins, before returning home to depose India from the summit of the International Cricket Council’s Test standings in a crushing 4-0 whitewash.
However, it is more than 10 years since England last won Test series in the subcontinent, with Nasser Hussain leading the team to 2-1 and 1-0 win victories away to Pakistan (2000/01) and Sri Lanka (2001) respectively.
But their upcoming tours offer a chance to improve that record, even though their three Tests against Misbah-ul-Haq’s improving Pakistan will be played in the UAE.
Conditions, for a series taking place in the Middle East because no major matches have been staged in Pakistan since gunmen attacked Sri Lanka’s team bus in Lahore in March 2009, are though set to mirror those in the subcontinent.
“If you want to be regarded all round the world as the best side in the world, then you’ve got to win in all conditions,” said Strauss, speaking at the team’s Heathrow Airport hotel here on Monday ahead of their departure.
“England cricket teams’ record in the sub-continent has been patchy,” the opening batsman added.
“I think it’s a really good time for us to have a lot of sub-continental cricket because we’ve done well over the last two years or so and this is a kind of new frontier for us, to win and hopefully win consistently in the subcontinent.
“It’s just what we need as a side but we are not under-estimating the size of the challenge,” said Strauss, whose team also face home Tests involving the West Indies and South Africa in a packed 2012 schedule culminating with four Tests in India -- where England last won a series in 1984/85.
Pakistan have been successful in their temporary home since Misbah took over as Test captain from Salman Butt, jailed by a British court in November along with fast bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer after the trio were found guilty of spot-fixing by conspiring to deliberately bowl no-balls during the 2010 Lord’s Test against England.
Under Misbah they have won Tests against Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, with Pakistan starting to show a degree of consistency unusual for a side routinely labelled ‘unpredictable’.
And in Saeed Ajmal they have one of the best spinners around.
“They are probably one of the form teams in world cricket at the moment,” Strauss said.
“They seem to have a production line of good quality bowlers and Saeed Ajmal in particular has done well in those conditions.
“They have got a good balance to their side and they are playing some good, smart, cricket at the moment.”
The upcoming series will be the first between England and Pakistan since the spot-fixing scandal.
But the 34-year-old Strauss insisted: “I think the spot-fixing stuff is something we are desperately keen to move on from. What’s happened before is water under the bridge.
“I hope both sides can play in the right spirit and produce an entertaining and exciting Test match series.”
One concern for England is the batting form of their captain, who in 2011 averaged under 29 in eight Tests with no hundreds. That contrasted with the Middlesex left-hander’s career Test average of 41.98.
Strauss, who insisted he felt refreshed after an unusually long break (England haven’t played a Test since August), admitted: “Last summer, I probably didn’t play quite as well as I’d have liked.
“But form ebbs and flows a bit in Test cricket. I’m very keen to perform well and lead from the front.”
England have two warm-up matches, the first starting on Saturday, before the first Test gets underway in Dubai on January 17.
Jan 07-09: ICC Combined XI v England XI, Dubai
Jan 11-13: PCB XI v England XI, Dubai
Jan 17-21: 1st Test, Dubai
Jan 25-29: 2nd Test, Abu Dhabi
Feb 03-07: 3rd Test, Dubai
Feb 10: England XI v England Lions, Abu Dhabi
Feb 13: 1st ODI, Abu Dhabi
Feb 15: 2nd ODI, Abu Dhabi
Feb 18: 3rd ODI, Dubai
Feb 21: 4th ODI, Dubai
Feb 23: 1st T20, Dubai
Feb 25: 2nd T20, Dubai
Feb 27: 3rd T20, Abu Dhabi
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