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England face demons in Dubai

Posted in England in India 2012-13

Saeed Ajmal

Pakistan spinner Saeed Ajmal troubled England at Dubai earlier this year

England’s 3-0 defeat to Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates began and ended at Dubai. Now they are back there for three days of preparation ahead of a gruelling Test tour of India.

Alastair Cook’s squad are at the International Cricket Council Global Cricket Academy where their work will include playing spin on Asian pitches, an art that will be crucial to success in the four-Test rubber.

Almost nine months on from surrendering 43 wickets to spin twins Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, many of England’s leading slow bowlers are in Dubai to provide a stern batting test.

In addition to Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar and Samit Patel, who are part of the Test squad, James Tredwell, Scott Borthwick, Simon Kerrigan and Azeem Rafiq are also at the academy.

They, under the watch of national lead spin bowling coach Peter Such, will help the batsmen adjust to spin-friendly surfaces ahead of England’s arrival in Mumbai on Monday.

There, the tourists will play two warm-up games before another at Ahmedabad, the venue for the first Test beginning on November 15.

England’s first opponents, India A, this week selected no frontline spinner in an apparent attempt to limit their opponents’ opportunity to play slow bowling.

Cook, speaking at Lord’s on Wednesday, was unconcerned by the decision even if it is copied in the next two warm-ups.

The opening batsman knows his players will face plenty of spin in the nets during their time in India, even if not so much in the middle ahead of the Tests.

He can also take heart from England’s improvement versus slow bowling last winter.

Kevin Pietersen & Alastair Cook

Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook, who shone in the series-levelling victory over Sri Lanka at Colombo in April, are the only members of England's squad with Test centuries in India

Having struggled against Ajmal and Rehman in the UAE, England had similar problems with Sri Lanka’s Rangana Hearth whose 12 wickets aided a 75-run victory at Galle.

Faced with a must-win Test at Colombo’s P Sara Oval, the tourists finally produced a match-winning total: 460 built on Kevin Pietersen’s superlative 151 and Cook’s patient 94.

Once Swann’s six-for had left 94 needed for victory, Cook and Pietersen overcame the early losses of Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott to earn a 1-1 series draw.

Over the coming two months Cook and Pietersen will likely be the wickets the hosts crave most, being the only members of England’s squad with Test tons in India.

Cook’s came on England debut, at Nagpur in March 2006, while Pietersen’s was during his last Test in India, at Mohali in December 2008.

Given Strauss’ retirement, England’s batting line-up is likely to include at least one inexperienced member. With Ian Bell set to miss the second Test to attend the birth of his first child, there could be two in Mumbai.

Should Nick Compton or Joe Root make an England debut, either can take heart from Cook’s bow when the left-hander hit 60 and 104 not out having just flown in from England A’s tour of West Indies.

From an injury point of view, hopefully Bell’s return trip will be the only departure and arrival of the tour. If the tourists can stay fit, England’s last two Test visits to India - a 1-1 draw and 1-0 loss - would hint at another even contest.

The potency of the hosts’ spinners - Ravichandran Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and possibly Harbhajan Singh - or lack of it will go a long way to decide the outcome.

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